To my big brother, This is how your kindness turned into my confidence

To: My older brother, Adam

From: Ryan Cowley (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Adam,

The last time I gave a speech, I shared a quote from the late author Maya Angelou.

She once said, “‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

As children, Ryan and Adam bonded over a common passion for hockey.

That quote so perfectly reflects our relationship, as it was never one statement or gesture from you that made an impact on me. 

You are three-and-half years older than me. When we were kids, you introduced me to what turned into a life-long passion, hockey. In the ’80s, when we were growing up, Wayne Gretzky was the biggest deal in hockey. The NHL played at an even faster pace than they do now, and Gretzky was scoring 150-200 points a season. It was exciting and when I watched it with you, I felt no different than any other kid.  

However, in kindergarten, I began to realize that I was different. A woman pulled me out of class and brought me into an office where she encouraged me to speak. I didn’t understand why she was so nice or what exactly I was doing there. Before that meeting, I noticed that I had some trouble speaking, but I didn’t think much of it. As time went on, my struggles with my speech became more apparent. 

I stuttered. And for a long time, I feared my stutter would hold me back in life,

Early on, I was bullied and teased, especially in junior high. 

One time I remember going to the cafeteria in the morning and asking, “Can I have a muffin?” 

 I stuttered on the word “can.” When I got to my locker, a kid who must have heard me was nearby and started mocking me.

For a few years, I was angry at the people who bullied me. It took a real toll on my self-esteem. Instead of socializing, I got into more solo activities like reading and writing. Over time, I developed into a strong writer. Writing became a way to show people that even though I had trouble saying my words, my thoughts are very fluid and intelligent.

Adam has continued to have a positive impact on Ryan through the years.

At times, I felt as though I had something to prove. But I never felt that way with you. When we chatted, you were always calm and kind. Many people are impatient when I speak, but to this day, you always tell me you have all the time in the world. 

As we got older, hockey remained a part of our bond. When you moved out, I would go to your place to watch games because you had a big T.V. package. At the time, Gretzky was playing in Los Angeles. Since the games  were on the west coast, they played late. No one else was up except us, so we ended not just talking about hockey but also life. 

A few years later, I started writing blogs about hockey on Myspace and Facebook. One day, someone reached out to me and asked me to write about sports professionally. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a sportswriter. My first job was with a website called FanvsFan.

At the beginning of my career, I only wrote opinionated pieces because I worried my stutter would get in the way during interviews. But you told me not to let my stutter stop me. You suggested I look for an app that could help me. First, I tried one that asked the questions for me, but it sounded too robotic and thus inauthentic. Eventually, I started pre-recording my questions, which helped because I could listen to music while recording them. Music allows me to speak more fluidly.

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For the last four years, I worked for CBC, where I wrote great stories and conducted several inspiring interviews. Some of my favorite stories include one about Jared Aulin, a former pro hockey player who was brought to the L.A. Kings in 2001 by two scouts who died on 9-11. He spoke about how the tragedy and injuries impacted his career and passion for the game.

Also, I interviewed Cammi Granato, the first woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame and the first woman hired as an NHL scout.

I am incredibly proud of the work I have published and the resume I have created. Unfortunately, like many others around the world, my company recently laid me off. But I know another opportunity is on the horizon and I believe my unshakeable confidence started with you. Kind and compassionate, you encouraged me to go outside of my comfort zone and try new challenges.

After years of worry, I am no longer scared that my stutter will hold me back in life. And it’s you I want to thank.

More than I remember anything you said or anything we did, Adam, it was you who made me feel comfortable with who I am and how I speak.

I love you and will forever appreciate you.

Ryan Cowley
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