People say that it only takes a moment to make an impression in someone's life. I believe this to be so. A brief encounter with one of the most loved coaches in basketball helped to mold my life.
I walked into the Person High School gym as a six-year old holding my father's hand, so excited to see a good basketball game. About halfway through the first half of the game, my dad noticed that the coach of my beloved NC State Wolfpack, Jim Valvano, was standing on the balcony of the gym. The man whom we affectionately called "Jimmy V" graced our small town with the purpose of recruiting a star from our high school.
At halftime, my dad and I decided to give Coach V a little visit. For around five or ten minutes we talked hoops. I, a very brash six-year old, decided to give this national championship winning coach advice about how to play a future opponent. He accepted my advice very graciously and wished my father and me well before he left the gym. Several weeks later Coach V mailed an autographed poster of himself which still hangs in my room. One of my fondest memories of my childhood is the fact that I had the honor of attending his last game coached in Reynolds Coliseum.
His intensity and infectious personality as a coach were amazing but the part of his storied life that sticks with me most occurred after his coaching days were over. In May of 1992, Jim Valvano was diagnosed with bone cancer. Through many months of agonizing treatment he never lost hope and never stopped believing that a miracle would happen. This is the part of the man that has shaped my life.
In the months before he died, Jimmy V did more than some of us do in a lifetime. He established the V Foundation as a way to raise funds for the researching of cancer. He was also a major figure on television, bringing his lighthearted, Brooklyn humor to ESPN whenever he was physically able. Coach Valvano's speech commemorating the Wolfpack's 1983 National Championship, in Reynolds Coliseum was something that has helped to shape my life. His words of inspiration stretched much farther than the game of basketball. He spoke of having a dream, sticking with that dream, and never losing hope.
I try to bring his inspirational words to my life and struggles every day. As a stutterer, I go through many ordeals every day that challenge my determination. There are many days in which I find it very difficult to do the types of tasks that many people with fluent speech may take for granted. Occasionally I find it difficult to answer a phone, talk to a teacher or even have a meaningful conversation with a friend. At times I even find it an agonizing experience to play tennis because I know that I have to call out the score. Whenever I begin to lose hope that my speech will never get better, Coach V pops in my head. He never let his cancer control his life, and I am determined not to let my speech control mine.
I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and the fact that we all placed on this earth for a reason. Yes, I do stutter but I know that stuttering is not the end of the world. I know that I am an intelligent 17-year old young man and I have a bright future ahead regardless of my speech. Stuttering is not something that I see as a tragedy. There are millions of people in this world dying from terminal diseases, and kids who live nightmares full of guns and violence. These are the real tragedies in our world. Not being able to express yourself perfectly is a nuisance, but compared to how my life could be, stuttering is just a minor inconvenience.
I feel that one of my reasons for being on this planet is to make people happy and to try to show people that miracles can happen if you believe enough. I also want my fellow stutterers to know that they are not forced to live a life of fear and self-doubt. Things can and will get better if you believe in what you want hard enough and are willing to put forth the hard work to accomplish your dreams.
During Coach Valvano's last public speech, he said seven simple words that will stay with me a lifetime. "Don't give up, don't ever give up."
added May 1, 1996