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Published on May 14th, 2015


Curling for Apraxia

Gold medalist E.J. Harnden uses his position as a top curler to help fund his nephew’s treatment for CAS

By Nicole Chatelain, Communications Specialist, SAC.

Olympic champion curler Eric “E.J.” Harnden, who helped the Canadian men’s curling team win the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, isn’t always at home in the spotlight. When The Curling News approached him about posing for their 2014 “Men of Curling” calendar, he wasn’t sure if it would be right for him.

“I was hesitant,” Harnden admits. The 2014 calendar would be the first one to celebrate male curlers and he didn’t think he wanted to be a part of it. So what won him over? “When I found out part of the proceeds go to a charity of my choice, I started actively looking for different organizations or charities that might support childhood apraxia of speech.” The cause has a personal connection for Harnden.

Six years ago, his nephew Kingston was born — and the two developed an instant bond. “I’ve always considered him more than a nephew,” Harnden says fondly. “I’ve been helping take care of Kingston since he was just weeks old.”

Kingston and E.J. making a gingerbread house

He describes Kingston as a typical young Canadian boy: one who likes camping with his uncle and going out to play. But early on, Harnden noticed that Kingston had trouble communicating. He used a lot of hand signals to communicate and often seemed unwilling to speak. “I had a tough time with it,” Harnden confesses. “I’d drop him off at his mom’s and come home feeling depressed because I couldn’t help him.”

Eventually the family received a diagnosis: Kingston has childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). CAS is a little-known disorder amongst most of the Canadian public and it’s one that doesn’t get much media attention. “It’s one of those things that hasn’t gotten the awareness it deserves,” notes Harnden. “There isn’t a lot of information out there.” So although he immediately thought of Kingston and CAS when he considered what cause he would like his participation in the calendar to support, he couldn’t find a uniquely Canadian organization that is specifically devoted to children with CAS or their families.

Undeterred, Harnden asked The Curling News team if they might consider making a charitable contribution to directly help fund Kingston’s CAS treatment with a private speech-language pathologist. “Kingston was not getting the treatment that he needed because it was not affordable … I requested that the entire amount be utilized for more frequent speech therapy sessions [for him].” And he was pleasantly surprised with the organization’s reaction to his request. “They were very supportive of it!”

According to Harnden, The Curling News team were enthusiastic about his idea because they consider this sort of donation exactly the type of activity that the proceeds from calendar sales should be used to support. This arrangement meant the organization would be able to see a direct result of the money raised. The decision to appear in the Men of Curling calendar became an easy one. “After that I just had to get permission from my wife!” Harnden jokes.

After the calendar was published, Harnden, Kingston and Kingston’s mother Chantal participated in a cheque presentation ceremony at the Grand Slam of Curling in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where Harnden grew up and still lives today.

Harnden hopes that one day, CAS will be better understood and families will have more access to treatment with qualified speech-language pathologists. “We need more ways to support children, and the support staff, families and caregivers [who care for them]. You really feel alone if you don’t know where to go for help.”

Kingston wearing E.J.’s gold medal from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

As for Kingston, the young boy is thriving thanks to private speech therapy he’s receiving with the funds raised from the calendar. “I’ve noticed a big difference. It’s a thrill to see his progress,” says Harnden. “Not just that he’s able to say more words and say them more clearly; it’s his willingness to speak. It’s difficult for a child to have confidence when they know they can’t do something properly, so now to see his new level of confidence — it’s very rewarding!”

Harnden also commends communication health professionals for their important work and impact on the lives of people living with communication disorders. “Thank you for doing what you do. You have a direct impact on improving and helping with the quality of life of another person and that is a very rewarding feeling that very few people get to experience — you should be very proud!”

May 14 is Apraxia Awareness Day. Click here to learn more about how you can promote CAS awareness.

Feature Image Caption: 
Left: Kingston, his mother Chantal and his uncle E.J. at the Grand Slam of Curling in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Right: Kingston and E.J. enjoying a skate together

Nicole Chatelain
SAC Communications Specialist

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