35th Annual Conference – Chicago, IL

July 4-8, 2018

During our time in Chicago we laughed, we cried, we learned, and we were inspired. Nearly 900 children, teens, and adults who stutter, their family members and friends, and the professionals who serve them came together in a unifying spirit. Reflect on that magical experience by taking a look back at the photos, the fun and, the keynote presentations.

Take a Look Back…

Keynote Speakers

During the first keynote address at the 2018 National Stuttering Association (NSA) Conference, Annie Bradberry shared her story living life as a person who stutters. Annie has long been involved with the NSA as a former Executive Director, Chapter Leader, Board Member and currently she serves as a Regional Chapter Coordinator.

Annie began her story by sharing how she got fired from her first job at a donut shop because her stuttering slowed things down during the busy morning shift.

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Shame. Humiliation. Self-Pity. Self-Doubt. All of those feelings and more began to take root within Annie. Her father did his best to silence those feelings by telling Annie, “Those people. That situation. It cannot define you. They don’t matter. What do YOU want to do?

Looking back, Annie now realizes her father was teaching her that she had a choice as to how she would feel. Annie told the audience, “When I reflect on my stuttering and its impact on my life, I see so clearly times when I was shown it was me who cared more about my stuttering. It was me who got in my own way of doing and living. I was stopping myself from becoming my best self.”

That awakening also shook Annie while in High School. She often skipped classes to avoid talking. One day her English teacher forced Annie to stand in front of the class. Her teacher asked the students if they knew Annie stutters. The students shrugged their shoulders to express ‘yes.’ The teacher then asked if anyone cared. None of the students cared.

That single moment I believe saved me,” Annie shared. “The moment I wish I could have captured and framed. Those shrugged shoulders said they really didn’t care. I cared more that I stuttered then they did. I was getting in my own way!

Annie found the NSA while in Jr. College. Immediately, she learned she was not alone. Immediately, the panic and fear went away. Immediately, she felt the joy and excitement of a judgment-free community of people like her.

At this stage in her life, Annie got deeply involved with the NSA and started the first local Chapter outside of Southern California as well as other Chapters from Los Angeles to San Diego.

Annie’s stutter was strong at this time and at age 22, she entered an intensive speech therapy program at Eastern Washington University. Her goal was not to be fluent; but rather, to participate in life with greater confidence to speak. When Annie started the program, she had 23 secondary behaviors that she (unsuccessfully) used to hide her stutter. When Annie left the program three weeks later, she had zero secondary behaviors and had gained the confidence to openly stutter.

A year before she went to the intensive therapy program, Annie got married. The marriage lasted six years. She and her husband talked about having children right away but didn’t. Annie explained, “It wasn’t until many years later that I admitted to myself that I was reluctant to have a child due to fear that our child would stutter. Again, I got in my own way.”

Annie remarried about 30 years ago and became a stepmother. She’s now lovingly referred to as “Grannie Annie” as her one stepdaughter has adopted three siblings. Annie has also been able to experience the love of children by forming lasting relationships with hundreds of her “NSA kids.”

Annie shared with the audience another pivotal moment that happened in her life but this time, she didn’t get in her way.

She was in her late twenties when a bank teller mimicked her stutter. Annie said, “I remember this like it was yesterday, I remembered my dad’s words from the day I was fired from the donut shop. I had a choice as to how I would feel. It was not the reactions of others that would define me, but my reactions to them.”

Annie reacted by turning her anger and shame into energy and asked to speak to the bank teller’s supervisor. She didn’t complain about the teller’s insensitive behavior but said something she still finds herself saying in similar situations today, “I am certain that your employee didn’t have the intention to make fun of me and I’m hoping that their reaction to my stuttering came from not understanding what was happening. But, this cannot happen again.”

It was at this time when Annie’s anger, fear, shame began to be replaced with interest, curiosity, and understanding. It was this moment that Annie found her purpose in life. She was determined to never let moments like she experienced at the bank happen to other people who stutter.

To live out her purpose in life, Annie had to make the decision to “OWN IT!”

Annie explained that “owning it” goes beyond accepting your stutter. It goes to, “… honoring yourself and acknowledging your uniqueness, your talents, skills, desires, fears, (and crazies, too). To go about living in a way that is full and filled with integrity and joy. Just OWN IT!

Annie closed her keynote address by stressing how you must get out of you own way to fully “OWN IT!” She explained it takes time and baby steps in order to truly “OWN IT!”

More importantly, Annie said, “All we have to do is look in, lean in, be realistic and take responsibility. The good news is we already own it. Who knows what will happen when you get out of your own way? I believe your best self will emerge when you OWN IT!”

 

Terry Finley is a dreamer. He’s always dreaming. For Terry, his dreams become reality.

In the second keynote address at the 2018 National Stuttering Association Conference, Terry talked about achieving his dream of being an Airborne Ranger in the United States Army. He also talked about realizing his dream of building a successful thoroughbred racehorse business. But to achieve his dreams, he’s had to fight through his stutter.

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Terry explained, “Stutterers are a tough lot by nature. Our human spirit is powerful. We don’t give up. I didn’t give up.”

 

Terry grew up stuttering and took speech classes as a young child. He loved spending time with his dad at the horse track. He vividly remembers watching Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby in 1973. Terry enjoyed being around horses. He told the audience, “I loved horses because they didn’t judge me like many people did when I was a 12 year-old boy with a severe stutter. All I had to do with horses was love them and respect them and in return, they would be my best partner. No strings attached.”

As Terry grew older, he excelled in the classroom and in sports. His ability on the football field paved the way for Terry to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1982.

While at West Point, Terry used every technique imaginable to hide his stutter from substituting words to avoiding talking to staying silent. His classmates at West Point stood by Terry and helped him through difficult speaking situations.

Terry graduated from West Point in 1986 and then entered Ranger School, the Army’s premier military combat and leadership training program. Ranger School is 58 days of intense stress with extreme physical challenges made even more extreme when you haven’t slept in days and you’ve been deprived of food.

For Terry, the most extreme challenge was the twice-daily roll call. There was one Ranger Instructor, Sergeant Jacobs, who especially targeted Terry with an attitude that said he didn’t want a stutterer to be part of his Airborne Ranger fraternity. Sergeant Jacobs would shout to Terry, “Ranger 1-2-3.” All Terry had to do was respond by saying, “Ranger Finley Sergeant.” But as he explained, “There I am, a tough Airborne Ranger wannabe struggling to say ‘Rrranger Fffffinley Ssssssergeant. I’d force it out time after time but it was stressful.”

Just as his high school friends supported and helped Terry through challenging times, so did his Ranger patriots. They knew Sergeant Jacobs didn’t want Terry to succeed. Terry told the audience, “My buddies, my partners… they propped me up, they had my back. For 58 days, some days quite a bit more than others, I stuttered. No way was I letting this clown, Sergeant Jacobs, run me out of Ranger School. No way!”

Terry graduated from Ranger School and achieved the rank of Army Captain before leaving the military in 1991. As he weighed a corporate job offer from Johnson & Johnson, Terry remembered how much he enjoyed being around horses. Instead of embarking on a corporate career, Terry began dreaming again. His ‘always dreaming’ mind pushed him to become an entrepreneur and start a business investing in thoroughbreds.

Despite having little experience in horse racing and a young family to support, Terry founded West Point Thoroughbreds in 1991. It’s a unique business that finds financial partners to invest in high-potential thoroughbreds destined for the winner’s circle at the biggest horse races. Terry and his wife started small and bankrolled the business by maxing out credit cards and outworking the competition.

Today, West Point Thoroughbreds is highly successful with investors ranging from athletes to celebrities to well-known business executives. As he grew the business, Terry learned that his investors “… did not care that he stuttered.” All his investors wanted was “… to own fast horses that won big races.”

The ‘always dreaming’ Terry wasn’t yet satisfied. Ever since he started his business he dreamed of owning a Kentucky Derby winner. For Terry, “… the Kentucky Derby is the Super Bowl, World Cup, World Series and Masters all tied up in two minutes of dreaming. It’s the greatest two minutes in sport!

The odds of a horse winning the Kentucky Derby are beyond daunting. It’s nearly impossible. It takes a vivid dream full of passion, grit, fortitude and luck to own a horse that wins the Derby.

In 2006, he was part owner of a horse that came in 14th place at the Derby. Then in 2014, his business co-owned a horse that finished second.

Terry’s business became part owners of a horse favored to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby. On race day, heavy rains turned the track into 1.25 miles of sloppy mud. These were not ideal conditions for a typical horse to run in. But Terry’s horse was known to be a mudder, one that runs well in muddy conditions.

Out of the gate, Terry’s horse ran strong and stayed with the leaders. With a quarter mile to go, Terry horse was solidly in first place and remained there to become the winner of the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.

The ‘always dreaming’ Terry Finley overcame the odds in life to fulfill his dream with a horse aptly named, Always Dreaming.

Terry closed his talk with an important message for every person who stutters. He said, “You stutter. And I stutter. But never let that fact stop us from living our dreams. Never let that fact stop us from… ALWAYS DREAMING.”

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