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Minden man overcomes obstacles

by Linda Hiller, staff writer

If you think opera, tennis, troubled teens and stuttering have nothing in common, you’re not the visionary that Dave McGuire is.

The founder of Minden-based Rite of Passage and a breakthrough stuttering treatment called Freedom’s Road, McGuire can piece together seemingly unrelated tidbits into “why didn’t someone think of that before” programs.

McGuire was born in Minden 53 years ago, delivered by Dr. John Pasek in the basement of the Minden Inn. McGuire loved catching frogs and playing outdoors in this “huge playground,” but a stutter in his speech made his school days less than ideal for the young Gardnerville Elementary School student.

“I didn’t feel like a regular kid,” he said. “I felt like an outcast.”

When the family moved to Victorville, Calif., with Dave heading toward junior high school, things got worse.

“I was teased a lot there and got into fights – I was no stranger to the principal’s office,” he said. “I was just trying to be a normal teen-ager like everybody else.”

After high school, McGuire attended college, but flunked out of two universities.

“When you stutter, you don’t want to talk on the phone, let alone speak out in class. I avoided those situations,” he said. “I was trying to be an ag major – I thought, ‘If I can be a farmer I can just talk to the animals and not worry about my stuttering.'”

McGuire heard about a doctor at UCLA who specialized in treating stutterers and went to investigate.

“I needed help. There were times when it took me five minutes to get out a word,” McGuire said. “Dr. Sheehan taught me about the psychology of stuttering, about the ‘cycle of panic’ that stutterers go through – the blocking, the choking, the tricks – and for once, it made sense to me.”

After getting a handle on his stuttering – not a cure, but better control, he says – McGuire was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and became a psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital, a mental health facility.

There, he noticed that many of the teen-agers who came to the facility and left “cured” would be back in the hospital in six months. McGuire was a tennis player, and something in a book he was reading at the time, “The Inner Game of Tennis,” gave him an idea.

“I decided to start a little pilot program, and so I took around five or six kids out to play tennis,” he said. “We cleaned off the tennis courts and I coached them. When they left the hospital, they were no longer ‘that bad kid who got in trouble’ – they were tennis players and could go back to their school and be on the tennis team.”

Inspired by this success, McGuire went to Placerville, Calif. in 1980 and founded Wimbledon House with juvenile delinquents referred from the court system. He used sports to motivate and teach and took the group on a bike ride from Placerville to Vancouver, B.C.

Inspired again by success, McGuire decided a rural locale would be better for dealing with troubled teens – getting them away from their urban environment and bad influences – so around 1984 he branched out to the Carson Valley on Washoe Tribe land near what is now China Spring. Tribe chairman Bob Frank supported the facility and McGuire, he said.

“Bob Frank was a great man, a very powerful man,” McGuire said. “He made it happen for Rite of Passage.”

So Rite of Passage was born – named for the coming-of-age ceremony that adolescents go through to become adults, he explained. McGuire secured funding from California, since the juveniles would be coming from there. He continued the Wimbledon House philosophy of stressing the importance of sports in the ROP curriculum.

“I’d discovered that everything you needed to know about how to succeed in life, you could learn from sports – work hard, teamwork, stay in shape, etc.,” he said.

ROP moved to Schurz, where the participants lived in tents. In time, a cloud came over the organization, with allegations that the desert environment was too harsh, among other things. Faced with defending the program to investigators, McGuire’s stutter returned and contributed, he said, to his eventual removal from ROP.

Married at the time, McGuire had what seemed like a nervous breakdown. He didn’t handle the pressure well, stuttered horribly, went on a hunger strike for a fair investigation, and when the cloud cleared (the charges were dropped), his credibility with the ROP board of directors was shot. He was fired and his wife and daughter left him.

“I guess I went pretty crazy and then, ‘poof,’ I had nothing left,” McGuire said. “I lost it all in humiliation. I went to live with my parents and strung tennis rackets to make money.”

n Phase Two. At rock bottom, staring at middle age, McGuire decided to go to Europe. He traveled around, stringing tennis rackets and playing on clay courts. In Holland, he met a beautiful Dutch doctor on a tennis court, fell in love and married her one year later.

In 1993, a famous opera singer, Len del Ferro, was telling of his cure for stuttering through special breathing. People urged McGuire to give the cure a try, so he did.

“It was amazing – in three days, I was like this,” he said smoothly, without a stammer. “But, like so many of Len del Ferro’s pupils, I relapsed before long. What he didn’t know was what I had learned from Dr. Sheehan about the psychology of stuttering and the cycle of fear. I combined that with the breathing and that was it!”

Finally, McGuire said, he was free of the stuttering that had scripted his life for more than four decades.

“It was like being confined to a wheelchair all your life, and then being able to walk and run and play tennis,” he said. “I never say it is a cure, but, like sports, if you work hard, train and concentrate, you can succeed.”

As he had before with his pieced-together discoveries in helping troubled teens with a tennis book philosophy, McGuire decided to put his stuttering “miracle” out there for others. He founded the McGuire Program and began offering four-day seminars.

This month, McGuire brought the program to the United States, to Reno – near his old Nevada roots – and in four days, 21 stutterers became “smooth talkers” with the program, he said.

“And, the miracle of it all is, if I hadn’t gone through what I did here with Rite of Passage – leaving in disgrace and going to Europe – I never would have met my wonderful wife and had these beautiful children and met Len del Ferro,” McGuire said. “It’s like it was meant to happen.”

McGuire is now the doting and tennis-coaching father to Kimberly, 11 and Stephanie, 9 – both outstanding Dutch youth tennis players. He speaks in fluent Dutch to Stephanie, who is here with her dad to further her tennis career and play some American matches.

“I am so proud of where Rite of Passage has gotten to,” he said. “My most important job now is being a good dad. My number two job is to help stutterers. I guess you could say I coach stutterers – if you can get good at a sport like tennis – you can get good at speech.”

For information on the McGuire Program, go to http://www.mcguire-freedomsroad.com or call Kathleen Visciano in California, (707) 775-2515. Tomorrow, Oct. 22, is International Stuttering Awareness Day.