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Miss B.C. is fighting fit

Hannah Seaman,  will compete for the title of Miss World Canada on May 8 and 9 at River Rock casino in Richmond. The Langley woman plans to speak on a topic that is all too familiar to her — stuttering.  - Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times
Hannah Seaman, will compete for the title of Miss World Canada on May 8 and 9 at River Rock casino in Richmond. The Langley woman plans to speak on a topic that is all too familiar to her — stuttering.
— image credit: Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times

For much of her childhood, Hannah Seaman woke up every morning wishing she was someone else. Anyone else.

As a young teen, the Langley Fine Arts School student would spend weekends alone in her room playing video games, doing her best to avoid being seen or heard.

“It’s not a healthy thing for a 13-year-old girl to do,” Seaman, now 22, acknowledges.

But if she hid, perhaps it’s understandable, because the Langley woman was bullied the majority of her childhood, simply for being different — for stuttering.

“I didn’t know how to make friends, how to keep friends, how to be social,” she said of her early school years.

“It sucked.”

Today, as the reigning Miss B.C., Seaman is getting set to compete for the title of Miss World Canada.

But in many ways she’s already won a much more valuable prize — self-acceptance.

With her sparkling dark eyes and infectious smile, combined with a quick wit and relaxed demeanor, it’s tough to picture the old Hannah as she describes herself.

Although she stumbles over a few words, there aren’t too many sounds that appear to give her a lot of difficulty anymore.

She quips that whenever she goes to a Starbucks they write Anna on her cup, because she can’t always pronounce the H.

But as she entered her teenage years, Seaman’s stutter made her feel so insecure that she would second guess every decision she made — right down to the clothing she chose to wear.

“I never felt good enough,” she said.

“We’ve all got our insecurities, but my stuttering just amplified it. My speech was a lot worse then.

“I would come home from school mentally and physically exhausted. My jaw hurt from trying to talk.”

It was an unexpected visit from one of the Fort Langley school’s teachers that set her on a new path.

“Darren (Storsley) came into one of my classes when I was in Grade 8,” Seaman recalled.

Storsley, a former pageant competitor himself, is the director of the Miss/Mrs/Miss Teen BC pageant.

“He showed us the video from the year before and, it’s hard to explain, but something inside me kind of snapped — I thought, ‘I’m tired of living my life like this.’

Seaman was finally ready to step outside the walls she’d built around herself.

“I told my parents about the pageant that night; they were shocked,” she said.

Her mother, in particular, was worried that she was setting herself up for heartbreak.

“My mom was always very protective of me. She thought other people would view my stuttering as a weak point.”

Even if that was true, Seaman was done letting other people’s opinions — real or perceived — dictate how she felt about herself.

Someone once told her that she would always be a wallflower.

“I said, ‘No, life’s not going to be that way for me.’

•••

Seaman’s speech, which had been developing normally, began to deteriorate when she was in Grade 2, said her mother, Francine Seaman.

It was actually a teacher who noticed first. The signs didn’t start showing up at home for another year, after the family moved and Seaman changed schools.

“It was in December, we were walking home from school and I realized Hannah really needed help,” said Francine.

“That year, I got her into an intense summer program for stutterers.”

But all it seemed to do was make the little girl more aware that she was different.

At school, her inability to quickly express a thought made it tough to connect with others her age.

“Kids talk over kids, that’s pretty normal,” said Francine.

“That’s the really difficult thing for children who stutter — why they don’t have a big network of friends.

“As far as the bullying, I don’t even know everything she went through.”

So the idea that her daughter now planned to step out onto a stage in front of a crowd of strangers was a bit alarming.

“When Hannah came home and told me about this pageant, I was scared. I guess my thinking was that you take baby steps to where you want to go.

“This was a huge leap.”

Francine worried that her daughter was entering a negative and competitive environment.

Instead, she said, it was an “incredibly positive” place where the contestants encouraged and inspired one another.

“That was the beginning of real change for Hannah,” said Francine.

“She has confidence now — not just in herself, but she’s gained a confidence in people. Being out in the world and dealing with people more has helped her.

“She wants to help anyone who feels unworthy because they’re a little bit different. For her, it’s not just about stuttering.

“Whatever happens in the pageant, she’s won anyway.”

•••

Seaman didn’t win the first pageant she entered — Miss Teen Fraser Valley 2005. Instead, she went home with the title of most photogenic. Her next attempt earned her a spot as fourth runner up for Miss Teen Canada.

By the time she entered the Top Teen of Canada pageant in 2009 — the year she graduated from high school — Seaman had moved into the first runner up position.

In 2012, she was crowned Miss B.C., following in the footsteps of another Langley woman — Tara Teng, who won the title two years earlier before going on to be named Miss World Canada.

On May 8 and 9, Seaman will compete for the national title at River Rock casino in Richmond.

Beyond pageant life, Seaman has kept busy.

After graduating from LFAS, she studied criminology for a year and a half at University of the Fraser Valley, but found post-secondary education challenging.

“University is kind of a really big thing for somebody who stutters to go into,” she said.

“In high school, where everyone knows each other, I never had to explain to other students or to my teachers why I talk the way I do.”

She is considering going back to school, but having a supportive employer at her job as an Internet sales co-ordinator at Gold Key Volkswagen gives her other options.

“They’re very understanding of my crazy pageant schedule,” she said of the dealership. She works at both the Langley and White Rock locations.

Part of that schedule has included working on behalf of the British Columbia Association of People who Stutter (BCAPS) as a public relations representative and board member. And in February she was interviewed on radio by CKNW’s Simi Sara, as part of anti-bullying day programming.

As the date of her competition approaches, Seaman is busy preparing for what will be the first swimsuit event of her pageant career.

“I’ve been going to the gym like crazy,” she laughed.

She has also taken up kickboxing to help her get into shape. The sport, it turns out, offers both a physical and emotional workout, she noted.

“It’s a great way to take out a bad mood.”

Next month, she’ll take that fighting spirit off the mat and onto the stage at River Rock. Rather than choose a non-verbal talent for the competition — dancing or playing an instrument, for example — Seaman will recite a monologue.

“My whole platform is facing your fears, head-on,” she explained.

“I put myself in a vulnerable position — it’s just me on stage with no music, just a spotlight.”

Regardless of whether she wins, Seaman no longer has anything to prove to herself — having not only stepped outside her walls, but kicked them to rubble.

And she hopes that the risks she’s taking now will set an example for the children she plans to one day have.

“When the time comes,” she said, “I want them to know that they never have to be afraid of who they are.”

•••

The Miss World Canada preliminary competition will take place on Wednesday, May 8, beginning at 3 p.m. at River Rock Casino in Richmond. The crowning gala will take place the next evening at 7 p.m. For tickets, go to ticketmaster.ca.

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