Finding His Purpose
“Home is where the heart is” is a familiar saying that means something slightly different for each person. Stephen Remillard has spent most of his life running, always looking for a home where his heart belongs. As a child, he moved from place to place with his family as his father was transferred for his job, never feeling quite at home anywhere. Later as an adult, it was as a marathon runner. He put mile after mile behind him but wasn’t sure where he was going. Then, quite unexpectedly, last year Stephen found his heart—or at least the path to his heart.
One day, while working as a personal trainer in a gym in Appleton, WI, an older gentleman approached Stephen, 25, asking if he had any suggestions for an exercise program to combat a condition he was recently diagnosed with – essential tremor.
“Up until that day, I hadn’t met anyone else who was affected by ET,” says Stephen. “I explained to him that I also had ET, and was diagnosed around the age of five. He said, ‘Well how unfortunate for you. I thought it only affected us older people.’”
At that moment, Stephen had a sudden realization of the purpose of his life. He realized that he could run marathons and other races for something greater than himself. He could run for a cause that deeply impacted him. He could run to raise awareness about ET.
As a child in New York, tremor was limited to Stephen’s hands, and the only people who acknowledged it were his friends who good-naturedly ribbed him. The only difficulty it imposed in school, according to Stephen, was an inability to write nicely and neatly like other kids.
While a senior in high school, ET spread to Stephen’s legs and voice. He soon was faced with the cold fact that even if ET did not limit his life choices, other people would because of their perception of his tremor. This was made abundantly clear to him when he tried to enlist in the military after high school.
There were many reasons why Stephen wanted to join the military. Besides being a “military buff,” Stephen says that he wanted a career where he could combine his physical and intellectual abilities. But most of all, Stephen says, he wanted a military career because he admires people who devote their lives to protect others.
After taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test, and scoring very well, Stephen chose to become an Army Ranger, which required him to enlist as an infantry soldier and work his way up through the ranks. His recruiter drove him to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Syracuse, NY for his physical. “I figured I was a shoe in. I was in great shape. I was intelligent, and I scored really well on my test,” says Stephen.
But when the recruits lined up for physical inspection, the doctor stopped in front of Stephen and asked him why he was so nervous. Stephen assured him that he was not nervous, and the doctor continued down the line. Stephen sighed with relief and thought that everything was going to be fine, but after being left to wait alone in the hallway – while everyone else moved on to schedule basic training – his recruiter approached and told him that he had to gather medical records to prove that ET would not negatively affect his ability to be a soldier. Even with the requested medical records from Stephen’s pediatrician and neurologist, he was rejected by the Army.
“This was devastating to me. I was very excited to have the opportunity to serve my country and do something that I know would have contributed very positively to my life,” says Stephen. “At this point, I really didn’t have any direction and had no idea what I wanted to do.”
Stephen then decided to enlist in the Air Force, figuring that a less-combat oriented military branch would be more accepting of his ET. However, he was immediately disqualified. “At this point, I really started to resent this disorder,” says Stephen. “I didn’t know why something like this would hold me back from doing something that I wanted to do.”
To deal with the frustration, Stephen began working out very hard every day. When summer came around, he found himself working as a mason’s assistant. It was, says Stephen, a tough job and he loved it, but after working manual labor for six months, he realized he wanted more from life. He then applied to a junior college in California.
While in junior college, Stephen played soccer and began running. As part of his conditioning, he worked out in the gym with weights to increase his muscle mass. A friend approached him in the gym and asked why he shook so much, and, more importantly, why did he continue coming to the gym every day and lifting weights when he shook so badly? Stephen took this opportunity to educate his friend about ET.
Shortly afterwards, Stephen transferred to San Francisco State University and it is there that he competed in his first marathon – The San Francisco Marathon. “All the hills made it quite the treat,” says Stephen. “It is one of the most difficult and demanding runs I have ever done.”
It was while competing here that Stephen first noticed that many runners ran for a cause. They ran to raise money for different charities, and this made an impression on him that he would act upon later.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business in May 2009, Stephen had to try just one more time for the military career he dreamed of for so long.
“I thought I would be a shoe in for officer school with the Coast Guard since I had a degree,” says Stephen. “And I thought that maybe an even less combat-oriented branch of the military would ignore my disorder. I walked into an office and filled out a questionnaire. One of the questions was ‘Have you ever been rejected from any other military branch?’ Of course, I answered yes. The officer showed me the door.”
Stephen admits that this final rejection from the military made him angry, but he quickly refocused his goals and found that job openings were limited. Stephen decided to find a place to settle down where he could pursue running and winter sports interests. He moved to Steamboat Springs, CO, and he now works for Steamboat Springs Resort in sales and marketing.
Since graduating from college, Stephen has participated in six races, including the Steamboat Pentathlon, which was Saturday, March 20, 2010. This was the first event Stephen participated in to raise funds for ET awareness programs. In this pentathlon, he competed in five events – Alpine skiing, Snowshoeing, Cross Country Skiing, Running five miles and Mountain Biking twelve miles.
Stephen was sponsored by the IETF, and he wore IETF branded shirts with the slogan “One Step At A Time: Racing for Essential Tremor.” In addition, Stephen has set up a fundraising site at www.firstgiving.com/stephenremillard where supporters can make online donations to support his efforts in future competitions to raise awareness about ET.
“Whenever anyone sees my hand shaking they think I’m nervous. I’m tired of people thinking that. I want people to be aware of ET,” says Stephen. “I have been ashamed in the past because of ET. I am fortunate that I am no longer ashamed, but there are other people out there who are still ashamed. I feel it is my responsibility to help them.”
Stephen is at home with himself while running, but his heart belongs to everyone who lives with ET.