Icebreaker

This was my first ToastMasters speech at Twitter. I ran over time a bit – I took 20 seconds over my limit of 7 minutes, and would’ve liked to have gone on a bit longer. I ad-libbed a fair bit. It was good fun. Not sure what to talk about for the next one.

Hello.

This is my icebreaker, so I get the chance to introduce myself.

My name is Kenneth Kufluk. I am one hundred and five years old, and Dick Costolo hasn’t spoken to me in six months.

But let me start with the name…

My surname is Kufluk, something I’ve always had trouble with. It’s unusual, even in Poland, where it came from. At school I’d get endless taunts of “toughluck kufluk”, and all sorts of mispronounciations.
One person says “Kufluk”, the next says “Kuflux”, the next says “Kooflux”.
For five years of high school, I had half the school laughing at me for being called “Cuthbert”.
But it’s Kufluk. It’s always been Kufluk.

Or so I thought.
Last year I published by Grandparent’s memoirs, and right there, buried in his stories of soviet invasion, cattle trucks and labour camps, and all the horrors of those times, he says that it was originally pronounced “Kooflook”. So now we know. I still prefer Kufluk, but I’m more relaxed about it now.

There’s nothing relaxed about my first name. It’s Kenneth. Nobody calls me Ken. Or at least, not twice.

I’ve been Kenneth my whole life, from when I was born until my 105th birthday this year.

Now I know what you’re thinking. 105? Is that his real hair? What’s his secret?
Well, yes, the hair is real. But there’s a story.

About six years ago I was a different man. Young, full of energy.
I’d been round the world twice.
I’d played in unicycle hockey world championships in japan, china and switzerland.
I’d sprint any distance.
I’d be out every night at the bar, picking up … well, picking up pints of beer, if I’m honest.
I’d actually been described as “a coiled spring”.

And then one summer, I found myself waking up at night with pain in my legs. I’d just walk it off and go back to bed. I assumed it was too much running.
But then it got worse.
Before long, a three block walk to the shops felt like miles. I’d come home and lie face-down on the bed, not asleep, but just exhausted.
No more running.
I’d find myself stopping on the way home from work, unable to go any further, but unable to think of any other way to get home.
This was chronic fatigue, something my “pull yourself together” upbringing had never really believed in.

Life got really hard.
I cancelled my first marathon, gave up on buying a house, and postponed my part-time degree.
But I still went to work.

And that was difficult too – not for exhaustion, but the constant questions “what did you do last night”, “how was your weekend”. I was face-down in bed at home, thanks for asking.

Little by little, month by month, I got better.
I learned to push through it.
Sometimes it got worse again, but overall I improved.

By the following year, I could get around.
I found that running was somehow easier than walking, and much easier than standing around.
So I entered the marathon again.

It was 26 miles of hard work. But I used what I’d learned – that you can push through exhaustion.
And I finished.
And I bought that house, finished that degree, and even proposed to my girlfriend.
But somewhere I’d still lost about a third of my life.

Five years on, and I’m cured. I still don’t like standing up for long stretches, or walking a long way. It’s like someone has turned up the gravity.
Some days are better than others. But I’m ok.
I’d say it’s made me feel about five years older.

Which, ok, only makes me about 40.
The real reason I feel 105 is because I have a six month old baby, which means I haven’t slept properly for, oh, about a year.

And why hasn’t Dick spoken to me?
Well, maybe it’s because I named my baby [REACTED].

Or maybe it’s because we’ve never actually really met.
One of those. I’ll never be sure.