Bryan Rust was one of the Penguins’ surprise heroes during the 2016 postseason, and he was the subject of many interviews for national broadcasts and worldwide publications. Those experiences are nerve-wracking for most people – but even scarier for Rust, considering his situation.
He has a speech impediment.
But the Michigan native hasn’t let that hold him back. From his Honeybaked youth hockey days to engraving his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup, Rust talked about growing up with the defect and battling through adversity.
Who I Am
Bryan and his older brother, former Michigan Wolverine Matt Rust, both worked through the communication disorder while becoming successful young students and hockey players in the Metro Detroit area.
Something that could have been detrimental to a child’s growth was never an issue though, thanks to a strong support system of family, friends and teammates.
“My older brother and I kind of suffered from the same thing,” said Bryan, adding that they both went to speech therapy. “In terms of growing up with it, everybody was always really supportive, and I never really got teased that much – a few times here or there. It was just kind of little minor things here or there, or the occasional situation when I couldn’t push a word out.
“It’s one of those things that just became part of who I was.”
A Big Issue
With an international narrative now revolving around bullying and similar issues, Rust has a newfound appreciation for how his teammates treated him growing up.
“I didn’t think much about it at the time,” Rust said. “As I got older and these days, I see how bullying and kids getting picked on is such a big issue in schools and on teams today. I do look back and I was very fortunate that I was able to be surrounded by the people that I was and the support system that I had throughout my whole hockey career.”
USA Hockey prohibits bullying, threats and harassment across the board. According to the USA Hockey SafeSport Handbook:
While other team members are often the perpetrators of bullying, it is a violation of this Policy if a coach or other responsible adult knows or should know of the bullying behavior but takes no action to intervene on behalf of the targeted participant(s).
Skills for Life
The mental fortitude and resiliency Rust needed growing up was not lost on Penguins’ management.
“I think it’s an incredible sign of character,” Penguins assistant general manager and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Guerin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Just mental toughness. Being able to fight through things. That’s a life situation. Things like that, those are tough on a kid’s confidence and self-esteem. To be able to battle through that and to get where you are, it’s a good sign of character.”
Coaches, teachers, scouts – and don’t forget future bosses – all take these qualities and characteristics into account during their evaluations. And they all take note when players, students and employees display a lack of character and respect for others.
The best advice Rust ever received on how to deal with his speech impediment? Embrace it.
“Don’t hide it,” Rust said. “Don’t try to change who you are. Don’t try to not express yourself or not speak up or hide in a corner or be quiet. If it happens, it happens, and over the course of time, I got much better with it, and now it kind of rarely happens.”
He wants kids struggling through something similar to approach it the same way he always has – don’t hide from it.
“It doesn’t affect who you are,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you are any less of a person. It’s just something, a little bit of adversity, and you just have to find the right people around you who are going to help make you happy and support you if things are rough.”