Caroline Pittard was a senior in high school and wanted more than anything to enter the Miss Hanahan beauty pageant. It was her dream. But, she stuttered.
"I wanted to do it so bad," Pittard said. "My teachers encouraged me, but I said no. I couldn't even say my name. I just wasn't going to do it."
So, she ended up pouring water for the judges.
"Thinking about it now is really hard," she said. "I still think about it even now. It was something I really wanted to do, but I let stuttering win."
That's why Pittard, now 28, is a speech and language pathologist at Goose Creek Primary School, where she works with young kids who struggle with some of the same issues she did as a child.
"I've lived it," she said. "And I've worked through it."
The issue of stuttering has come to the forefront lately because of the movie "The King's Speech," which focuses on England's reluctant prince who struggled to overcome his halting speech.
"The movie was phenomenal," Pittard said. "It really portrayed the struggle. It brought some tears to my eyes."
Colin Firth won an Academy Award for his portrayal of King George VI, but the victory really belongs to those yet to confront the demon they try to hide from the world.
"I was 3 years old when I began stuttering," Pittard said. "By middle school, I had just become quiet. I shut down."
Even as a child, Pittard learned to switch words and even held her breath hoping the words would come out right. People who stutter, she said, learn shortcuts and avoidance.
"Families tend to enable kids who stutter," she said. "Like I would never order for myself in restaurants or make phone calls. I'm better now because I've come to accept it, accept myself."
No quick fix
About 3 million Americans stutter, approximately 1 percent of the population. And yet, very little is known or taught about the topic.
"I had a one-hour course in graduate school about stuttering," Pittard said. "People just aren't comfortable with stuttering."
But the damage to a person's self-esteem can be significant. And while there's no quick fix, there is help.
Today, you'd never suspect this lovely young woman once cringed at the thought of speaking out loud. And yet, the anxiety of missing that high school beauty pageant still haunts her.
"I still think about it and dream about it all the time," she said, recalling the pain. "It was the one thing I really wanted to do, but I let it get away."