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Exercise and my stammer

Personal Trainer and ex-Army medic Joe Dilling tells us how exercise helps with his confidence, his stammer and his ability to empathise with clients. 

I've stammered since I was in primary school and growing up it did knock my confidence. You know how kids can be, they don't quite understand which can cause them to sometimes take things too far. I wouldn't say I was ever bullied for stammering, there were just certain people who didn't quite know how to take me. 

When I was growing up I was always really into playing sport. I think I tried almost every different sport out there. My dad used to shuttle me about to a different club each night, I can't thank him enough! I didn't quite realise the positive effect that exercise had on my confidence and my stammer until I become a Personal Trainer two years ago.

Exercise gave me a safe space to express myself without the fear of my stammer holding me back.

Increasing confidence

After completing a training course and subsequently a mental health and exercise coaching course, I began to understand how exercise has shaped the type of person I have become and improved my confidence massively. Exercise gave me a safe space to express myself without the fear of my stammer holding me back. 

When playing rugby and football, it was more about my actions on the pitch than the words I said. Everyone was working towards a common goal and this reduced the pressure I put on myself when it came to stammering. This safe environment and supportive community free from judgement was the perfect place to practise communication skills. 

Two pictures of the same man, one sitting at a desk with a microphone in front of him, and the other looking at the camera in front of a set of lifting weights
Joe being interviewed for a podcast (left) and at the gym.

The sport which had the biggest effect on my stammer, however, was boxing. Stepping into the ring for the first time was an incredibly challenging and nerve-racking experience, which required lots of training and discipline over a number of months.

Once I had had my first boxing fight when I turned 13, my confidence grew. If I was able to do that in front of hundreds of people and also have someone trying to punch me, my issues with my stammer didn't seem nearly as bad! Boxing helped me to reduce the stress and anxiety I felt when it came to stammering because I knew I had faced tougher situations in the ring. 

Empathising with clients 

When I became a Personal Trainer full-time at the start of last year, I was worried my stammer would hold me back. Personal training is built on effective communication — without that, the coaching process simply doesn't work. I thought that my stammer meant I wasn't an effective communicator. I also didn't know how other people in the gym would take me, perhaps perceiving my stammer as a sign of low confidence or lack of knowledge. However, my stammer hasn't held me back from being a Personal Trainer at all. If anything it's a blessing in disguise.

My stammer hasn't held me back from being a Personal Trainer at all. If anything it's a blessing in disguise.

Most of the people I work with are new to the gym and because of this they lack confidence. Through having my own struggles with confidence due to my stammer, I find I'm able to resonate more with the people I coach. I understand their issues and struggles because I've faced similar situations in the past. This has enabled me to guide them through their journey in the gym and help them improve their confidence. What I perceived at first to be a barrier turned out to be my biggest strength. 

Speaking to someone who stammers could be the best thing you do

I feel people who stammer have a unique ability to empathise and understand others on a deeper level due to the situations we've faced in the past and continue to face each day. Through being a Personal Trainer and having to talk daily, I feel I've inspired people in my own little way. That's a great feeling to have and one I'm thankful for each day. 

I believe everyone who stammers can inspire someone else in their own little way and provide a level of support, empathy and knowledge that people otherwise might not get.  

What's Next? 

Over the next few months and years, I'm excited to look further into the positive effect exercise can have on stammering and confidence through coaching. I also want to explore possibilities in the stammering community. 

Everyone's stammer is unique and what works for one person won't work for another. However, even if exercise doesn't have the effect on your stammer that it did for me, you will still get the many benefits of improving your physical and mental health. That's a win in my book! 

Follow Joe on Instagram and Facebook @thestammerpt. Listen to him being interviewed on the Happy 2 Health podcast.

Read more Your Voice articles from people who stammer and their allies. Would you like to write something? See our Share Your Story page or email editor@stamma.org for details.

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Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
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Tayo & Bhupinder
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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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