Hard work, perseverance bring great rewards in speech and in sport, says ISTAR client Ken M’Pindou

As an ISTAR ambassador and Olympic Games hopeful, Team Canada bobsledder Ken M’Pindou wants to inspire young people who stutter like him.

Sasha Roeder Mah - 15 September 2023

Ken M’Pindou has always been speedy. As a child, he and his brother Kevin were known around the schoolyard as “the fast twins,” and there weren’t many foot races where he didn’t cross the finish line first. These days, M’Pindou has harnessed that gift toward a new goal as a member of Canada’s national bobsleigh team. With his athletic skills and the same hard work and discipline he has poured into tackling a childhood stutter, M’Pindou’s sights are set on competing in the 2026 Olympic Games. 

We spent some time with M’Pindou to find out more about his goals as an athlete, how his years-long connection with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) has helped him manage his stuttering, and why it matters so much to him to inspire young people who may be facing similar challenges.

What brought you to ISTAR? 

I first started attending ISTAR the summer after Grade 8. My brother Kevin and I both stutter and my parents had seen how it was affecting us. We began learning techniques that didn’t cure but reduced our stuttering and helped us feel less shame when speaking in public. Over the years it’s been great learning different techniques to keep my speech under control. I always leave the sessions feeling good and knowing I am close to where I would like to be in terms of my speech. 

How did you end up a bobsledder? 

I started off doing bobsleigh in 2021; it was my first time out being a prospect for the team. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury that required surgery, so I was not able to participate for the remainder of that season. 

After rehabilitation, I was determined to get back into training. And in October 2022, I was named to the national team. This year I plan to get better, get more experience and continue to do what is necessary to compete for Canada at the 2026 Olympic Games. 

How do you compare the perseverance it took to get to that level in sport and the work you’ve put in with your speech issues? 

Not everything is easy and some things take time, but I approach my training for bobsleigh with the same attitude I bring to my stuttering. If I do not put in the work, nothing will be accomplished. 

Sometimes it’s challenging to stick to my speech technique and not let my head get to me. Many times, I am prepared to use my techniques — but sometimes I may slip up or overthink. When that happens I can end up stuttering more. I’ve learned the more I practise — whether in the mirror, or with friends or family — the more comfortable I am. 

How has sport been a refuge for you during your struggles with speech? 

Never truly knowing how to deal with those frustrations, my one escape has always been sports. Growing up, I loved playing sports — I was always one of the most athletic, if not the most athletic in my school or on sports teams. I was once told sports were my way of communicating. What I lacked in one area, God blessed me with in another. I could go on the soccer field and play for hours. I could run a 100- or 200-metre race without the thought of my speech ever intervening. 

What do you do as an ambassador for ISTAR? 

I volunteer with the young people involved in the summer intensive program, sharing my story. I want to instil confidence in them and push them to work towards their desires in life. I want them to have the confidence to not wait for the perfect moment to go after their aspirations. I want them to know they are capable now. 

What would you like to say to others who may be struggling, whether it be in the world of sport or in health issues? 

Life is not always fair. There are some things you can't control, but what you can control is how you decide to view yourself and what you will do as someone who stutters. 

Everyone has a talent of their own. Show others that despite your differences, you too are fully capable of doing and achieving what others are doing and achieving. Everything starts with believing in yourself and ignoring the naysayers. In sports, we often hear this analogy and it is true in life as well: You are in a race with yourself, no one else. As long as you keep getting better, you’re already winning. 

What has ISTAR meant to you?

It has meant a lot to me. I am grateful for those at ISTAR and their patience. Their commitment and excitement as you progress is awesome. I keep going back because I see the benefits of it. 

Thanks in part to ISTAR, I have accepted who I am and accepted the fact that I stutter. I am no longer ashamed. I recommend speech therapy to others because our voices matter!