I think often about the bravery of the Tennessee man who in late April wrested the assault rifle away from the killer at the Waffle House in Nashville, saving countless lives. Then, without noticing, I find myself surrounded by another type of courage.

The Speech and Hearing Sciences Department at Portland State University invited me recently to speak at its three-day retreat in the beautiful Cascade Mountains of Oregon. The staff and its young speech-language pathologists (SLPs) put together the retreat for adults who stutter from across the country.

I didn’t know what to expect at the retreat but was excited to share the story from PAPERBOY and what I have learned from my own journey of stuttering. The three days went by in a flash as our group was thrust far out of its comfort zone and into challenging situations.

— We addressed the group on our goals and our fears.

–We made videos detailing where we found ourselves on our stuttering “ladder.”

— We watched a heart-wrenching movie – When I Stutter – and shared our feelings about it with its producer and director, John Gomez.

— We were put through our paces by a professional improv group from Portland, attempting skits that would make any fluent person cringe.

Who were some of the participants who took part in this retreat, many using their vacation time to test their speaking mettle?

— A medical student who would soon be getting his degree.

— An EMT from San Diego, a young lady whom I would trust in any medical emergency.

— A pro golfer from California who was embarking on another dream – getting his teaching certificate for a career in physical education.

— A recovering alcoholic (34 years sober) who refused to be defeated by demons of any sort.

— A young man of 17 who petitioned to join this group of adults, knowing he would be the youngest in the group but desiring to jump head-first into the quest to find his voice.

The participants came from across the country and they would not be denied. Lest you think this was some maudlin gathering of souls, I have never been a part of so much laughter in my life.

I do not know what runs through the mind of a person facing a stone-cold killer with an assault rifle, but I know what it takes for a person who stutters to stand up and speak in a formal setting, even saying one’s name. I felt the strength and courage of these brave souls and I was proud to be among them.

The SLPs at Portland State who put together this retreat should not go unrecognized for their own brand of courage as they led us on this mysterious and often frustrating journey.

Courage can be found anywhere. It shows up at a Waffle House in Tennessee and certainly on a beautiful weekend in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

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