Walking for Talking: Jamie and Richard to hike highest peaks in Northern Ireland for cause
Mountains to climb for my stammering
Reading out loud, getting a bus ticket and meeting new people were just some of the things Jamie Wilson dreaded as a child.
The 27-year-old from Co Down has battled with a stammer since the age of three.
On Sunday August 28, with the help of best pal Richard Millar, the pair will climb the highest peak in every county in Northern Ireland in just 24 hours.
“We can’t find any public record of anyone doing this in the 24 hour time period before so it’ll be tight enough, but we’re confident enough we can do it. Or maybe just ridiculous,” Jamie told Sunday Life.
“It’s probably just us being idiots and trying to come up with a metaphor, but we thought the name Walking For Talking summed up perfectly what we’re trying to do with this challenge so that’s what we’ve called it.
“For a stammerer, just speaking can be a metaphorical mountain so we wanted to represent the uphill struggle that stammerers go through on a daily basis.”
Jamie and Richard, who were in the same school year at Regent House in Newtownards, are hoping their challenge will raise money for the British Stammering Association, a charity very close to Jamie’s heart.
“We’re well aware that stammering is relatively rare and it isn’t a life-threatening condition, but I was adamant when we started talking about doing this challenge that we weren’t just going to climb some mountains, we were going to raise some money and awareness in the process,” said the Belfast-based physiotherapist.
“The awareness was as important as actually completing the challenge for me.”
Richard added: “We did the Mourne Mountain Marathon (a two day endurance and navigation event) last year and raised a bit of money, but didn’t really do it that seriously. So we tried to come up with something that was a bit more meaningful and thankfully people have responded to it.
“I didn’t know much about stammering before and obviously I’ve never had a stammer, but I’ve been friends with Jamie for quite a long time now and I know he’s overcome a lot.
“Jamie has proved that having a stammer isn’t something to be ashamed of, but raising awareness helps to take away any of the stigma that may be attached.
“Having a stammer shouldn’t be a burden or something to be ashamed about, but I think if people know about it then they are more likely to take a bit of time with someone and that obviously puts that person at ease.”
Jamie added: “When I think back to being a child, having a stammer was something I hated. I always had it so I suppose I didn’t really know any better, but there were so many everyday things that were affected by it.
“There were things I always tried to avoid when I was at school because I knew what was going to happen.
“Reading in front of the rest of class just filled me with a sense of dread, I absolutely hated it.
“Most stammerers have words that they know they struggle to say and it seemed like every time I went to read something out loud, it had those words in it. I used to get the sweatiest palms and it was like this fear that just overtook me.”
Jamie even recalls a time when a teacher thought he had cheated because his written homework was excellent, but when it came to doing a presentation in front of the class his stammer made him sound much less convincing.
“Ice-breaker games were pretty horrendous for me too, same with ordering a bus ticket or meeting someone new and having to introduce myself.”
Since graduating from university in Edinburgh with a degree in physiotherapy and securing jobs first in London and then in Belfast, Jamie has had no choice but to embrace his speech impediment, something he says he now wears with pride.
“I’ve become a lot more relaxed now about having a stammer and the work environment I’m in has helped that, but it often does take me longer to say something and I’ve had to learn to live with that,” he said.
“I think it’s important to dispel the less than flattering preconceptions which many people have about it and show that it’s something that happens and you can overcome it.
“A lot of people think that having a stammer means that you’re a nervous or somewhat uninspiring person because you can’t articulate things as fast as you’d like, but that isn’t true.
“Okay, you may not say things the way you want to and that can be incredibly frustrating, but having a speech impediment shouldn’t haunt you and honestly, people around you aren’t half as aware of it as you are.”
A number of local businesses have got on board with the Walking For Talking challenge with Garmin donating a Vivo Active HR watch for training and Surf Mountain helping with clothing and equipment.
The super-fit duo plan to begin at Cuilcagh in Co Fermanagh on August 28 and will finish with Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh.
“Physically, it’s going to be pretty demanding but we’ll be well prepared,” said Ulster University masters student Richard.
“I've been using the Garmin Vivo Active HR watch to help us work out how long routes will take and how much it will take it out of it so that's been a big help.
“Jamie has planned out the routes and we’re going to need to make sure we’ve enough food and water to keep us going, but it’ll be worth it at the end.
“We’re starting at Cuilcagh in Fermanagh at 10am in the morning then work our way through them all, doing Slieve Donard in the dark. When we get to the top it’ll be dark, but we figured that because we knew it the best and are in the Mournes quite a lot, that it was a good one to get over and done with in the dark.
“Both of us just can’t wait to be at the top of the final mountain with a beer in our hand!”
He added: “To be honest, I didn’t know how much stammering really affected people until we started this challenge but we’ve been completely blown away by how generous people have been.
“People have donated because their son or someone in their family has used the British Stammering Association or has a stammer and they wanted to give something back.”
The keen sportsmen have just the Sperrins left to survey before embarking on their gruelling adventure.
“Kids often do get bullied for having a stammer but that’s because people are uneducated about it and see it as some sort of mark of Cain,” said Jamie.
“I’m not a parent, but I imagine the last thing you’d want to do is be worried about your child going to school, which I know my mum in particular would have thought about.
“If we can even raise the smallest amount of awareness about stammering here in Northern Ireland then I think it’ll be a job well done.
“And, if we do it, I’d say we’d be up for doing more challenges in the future, though it’s easy to say that now!”
Belfast Telegraph Digital