Ryan Cowley has been a sportswriter for many years, contributing to major platforms such as CBC Sports and The Globe & Mail in addition to his own website, MakeWayfortheKings.net, and currently for CaliSportsNews.com. A person who stutters since childhood, Ryan has turned his inactivity from fear into new opportunities from regularly interviewing sports figures to performing stand-up comedy, which he did briefly years earlier. Ryan loves what he does and is happy to share his story of resilience to inspire others. Ryan lives in Toronto with his wife, Shannon, and their two cats.
Dating back to childhood, hockey and writing are two of my biggest interests in life.
While I watched the former religiously, I was never a good hockey player. I could barely skate and I was certainly never blessed with the athletic gifts most of my friends had. Nevertheless, my love for hockey had never wavered.
As someone who has always enjoyed writing, I would dip my toes, so to speak, in poetry, screenwriting and short stories. Then, just for fun, I began writing about hockey — whether it was involving my favorite teams or major stories happening within the sport.
One of my friends read a few of my thoughts and wondered if I had ever considered a career in sports journalism, believing that I could excel in said field. Upon his suggestion, I hadn’t; but it certainly made me begin to consider such a career. Writing about hockey was easy for me. Finding what has turned out to be true passion, however, was anything but.
When I graduated high school, I was encouraged to veer away from writing and rather, to find a field that made the most sense in terms of both opportunity and income. I took said route only to find that I was miserable.
Pursuing a career I had no passion or love for affected me mentally and even physically. What made matters worse is that since I was a person who stuttered, I was told that there were a number of careers I wouldn’t be able to pursue: to name just three, a teacher, a lawyer and a journalist.
While I had no interest in the former two, I was determined to show skeptics that I could achieve the latter, stutter and all.
As a child, I was mocked; as an adult, I’ve been ignored, not taken seriously and worse, excluded.
The mocking I dealt with as a child left scars, but I’ve been more forgiving of these instances in hindsight as those who committed said mockery were children themselves and most likely didn’t know any better from a lack of education.
The unpleasant experiences I have dealt with as an adult, however, had left deeper scars — leaving me to wonder what I did to be ignored, not taken seriously or excluded by grown men and women who, from my vantage point, at least, should have known better than to treat a person who stutters like an inferior being, someone who lacks intelligence.
While anger is certainly an understandable reaction, it was not a justified reaction. Why let the anger, as well as the frustration and even bitterness, of being thought less of take over?
I wanted to do something about these slights, and I did – by showing why the pen is mightier than the sword.
If people hear me speak, or try to speak, they jump to the false conclusion that I lack intelligence.
For a long time, this either left me angry or despondent to the extent where I was more content to give up or feel sorry for myself rather than proving those skeptics wrong and, better yet, proving to myself that it was worthwhile to be resilient.
While I avoided situations that required me to use the phone, whether it’d be for personal matters or professionally — I never applied to call centres or receptionist positions — the phone was off-limits as far as I was concerned.
Through a lot of personal soul-searching, which included my passion and a personal identity, I began to write about sports.
When I began writing about sports, specifically hockey, it had started with mock articles through MySpace and Facebook. Soon, my platform turned into my own website where I would write about what was going on with my favorite hockey team — the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League — and I absolutely loved it. I found my voice and, using an age-old football analogy, I took the ball and ran with it.
After a few years, though, I wanted to write stories from the perspective of others. This meant I had to seek out others for interviews.
While we are fortunate to live in the day and age of email and text messaging, I knew that I needed to start using the phone to get interviews the way I wanted them, which included stories from qualitative and quantitative measures.
Over email, I’d receive a response to a question that was maybe a couple of sentences long. Over the phone, my responses would be paragraphs long, which included the emotion of my interviewee telling their story.
The latter felt — and was, quite frankly — so much better. I wanted to do this regularly, though, so, using today’s technology, I decided to prerecord my questions, but not before giving my interviewees a forewarning about my unorthodox method of communication.
Borrowing an idea from “The King’s Speech”, I had tried speaking while listening to classical music through my headphones. It worked.
This, paired with the knowledge that I stutter far less when I’m not on the phone, I decided to use a recording app on my laptop for my pre-recording of questions. This also worked.
I even went as far as prerecording what I’d like to say as sidebars and even thanking my interviewees for their time.
Best of all, I began with this method during a very difficult time both personally and professionally.
Having been let go from a writing job with a marketing company, I was riddled with self-doubt, not to mention acrimony from said dismissal.
As the old adage goes, though, I was determined to turn a negative into a positive, and that is exactly what I did. Better yet, what turned out to be a small handful of interviews — primarily from former Kings’ players about their respective careers — turned into a regular occurrence, going as far as interviewing coaching, scouting and player development staff regarding the future talent of the Los Angeles Kings and beyond.
I want my story to serve as a stark reminder that, no matter what obstacles others face and no matter how bleak or unpromising the future may seem, it is imperative to keep fighting, to do what you love. Plus, in doing so, it is important to remember to do what you love for yourself. It may be fun, and even vindicating, to prove others wrong, but it is paramount to prove yourself right first and foremost.
My story is for all people who stutter and also for their families and their friends. It is also a story for anyone simply looking for inspiration, a reminder that anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.
I accomplished what I set to accomplish during a very uncertain time in my life and I even thrived on what I love even further this past year when we were in self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter is especially resonant as this affected not just a country or a region, but the entire world.
I thrived as a sportswriter in the face of adversity. I am proud of that and even prouder to share my story. After all, if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Thank you for reading.
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