James Tennant graduated from Leeds Trinity University in 2012 with a 2:1 in BA (Hons) Sports Journalism. At his graduation ceremony, James was awarded the Journalism Department Prize in recognition of his outstanding academic achievements, but he also achieved something even greater: he learnt to speak.
James has had a severe stammer for 20 years, since he was four years old. He'd previously had speech therapy with the NHS, but this didn't work for him. The changing point in his life came in 2012 after enrolling on an intensive course with the McGuire Programme – a course that teaches physical techniques and mental strategies for dealing with a stammer. Teachers on the course also have stammers and after just three days on this programme, James had learnt how to speak.
Brett Arnall, Alumni Relations Officer, met James to find out more about his amazing journey.
"The McGuire Programme
taught me about having control of my speech." James told Brett. "I know I'll never be a fluent speaker, but now I'm not scared of failing like I was before".
James had felt completely stuck in 2012. He'd put on a brave face throughout school and university but, despite enjoying the experience, he felt if he couldn't speak, he was totally stuck. Before the course, I'd do everything to cover up my stammer and every day felt like a big lie. I felt worthless. I'd swap words, get others to order drinks, I wouldn't put my hand up in class and I wouldn't answer the phone. People would constantly put the phone down on me. Every day was all about me trying to cover up my stammer.
Learning to speak wasn't just a life-changing experience for James, but also for his family who have supported him every step of the way: Going on the McGuire Programme was the best thing I ever did. During the course, there was no interaction with the outside world. On the last day of the course, family and friends were invited to the farewell talks. My family had no idea if the programme was going to work – and then I stood up and spoke. It was very emotional for us all, especially after my family saw the change, I hadn't been able to talk to them before.
Since the course, James' story has been featured in various newspapers and he's been interviewed live on BBC radio Leeds and BBC Radio Cumbria. He has also joined a Speakers Club and was best man at fellow alumnus Jack Matthews' wedding.
James played rugby throughout his three years at Leeds Trinity and was elected captain for one game. He joked that on that occasion, the team talk wasn't up to much! James still plays Rugby Union and represents the alumni team in matches against the current student team.
Being the only student at Leeds Trinity with a stammer wasn't easy, but James didn't let this hold him back. He made some great friends and loved being part of the Rugby Club. Leeds Trinity was my first choice, I knew this was the place for me after attending an open day. The small and compact campus really appealed to me and I knew after the Sports Journalism talk that I'd made the right decision. I loved my time there and if I had to describe it in three words, it would be awesome, enjoyable and memorable.
In the last three years, James has completed five courses to overcome his stammer. His new-found confidence has inspired and motivated him to help others and on every course, he always looks out for those attending for the first time so that he can support them. In November, he will embark on training with the McGuire Programme to become a certified Primary Coach.
James has to work hard every day and wants to use his experiences to support others.
"It is not a short-term fix. Every morning, without fail, for 30 minutes I do breathing exercises. I know I have to continue to work hard. The feeling of helping others is so rewarding, I was there once and know exactly what they are going through. We are all after the same thing and despite our physical appearances, we all have something in common – we stammer."
After meeting James, Brett was completely overawed by his bravery, determination and new confidence. Brett commented:
"James showed me a video from 2012 in which he was attempting to answer some basic questions. He struggled for long periods, desperately trying to respond. I saw a shadow of the man sitting in front of me, previously unable to say his own name or where he was from.
He then showed me a film after being on the McGuire Programme for three days. The person who couldn't say where he was from or his own name had disappeared, a totally different James jumped on a soapbox in the centre of Newcastle with bounding enthusiasm and shouted out his name, where he was from and that three days ago couldn't say his own name.
I am sure James will go on to fulfil his dream of being a coach and will inspire many others who have a stammer. His enthusiasm is infectious and he is a truly determined and inspirational individual."