By Emily Stonehouse
“My entire life I’ve been a talker, thought I might as well make a career out of it,” laughed Benen Dykstra; podcaster and voiceover artist, as he chatted about his story with the Times.
Dykstra was born ten weeks early, which resulted in a diagnosis of Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy; a condition that impacts his left arm, and both his legs. “Cerebral Palsy, like many things, is a spectrum,” he shared. “Some people aren’t able to speak, some can’t use their arms, some can’t use their legs, I think it’s important to note that every individual is different.”
Growing up, he gave himself the nickname of “Rolling Dragon” in high school. “I wanted to really own the fact that I’m in a wheelchair,” he said, “and dragons are these mythical creatures. They have no limitations. And I wanted to be like that. No limitations.”
Dykstra has a deep love for “anything artsy”, sharing that he has spent five years working on a fantasy novel, has dabbled in recording music, and in October of 2022, he launched his original podcast, titled Sit Down and Stand Out.
“I am trying to eliminate all these stupid stigmas that have been around for decades,” he said. “People with all sorts of conditions are capable of more than you realize.”
In six short months, the podcast has hosted guests from the U.S., England, Germany, Australia, and Canada. “If the podcast is about not seeing people for their limitations, then I won’t be limiting where they’re coming from either,” laughed Dykstra.
He shared that while guests come from all spans across the globe, they all have one thing in common: “We all have unique challenges,” he shared; whether that be physical, mental, or emotional. Dykstra has interviewed folks with cerebral palsy, gynecomastia, bipolar disorder, depression, addictions, anxiety, and more. “Yes, there are challenges,” he said, “but we talk about how we could work around them.”
Dykstra shared that the concept of the podcast emerged when he struggled to find work due to his condition. He graduated from radio broadcasting at Durham College in Oshawa, and relocated to the Haliburton Highlands four years ago to join his family.
He said that he has applied to many jobs in the field, but feels as though those hiring struggle to see beyond his wheelchair. “I was frustrated with the opportunities that were available for all types of disabilities,” he said. “I may require some accommodations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to your business, and help it succeed.”
In an attempt to find employment, Dykstra started working alongside Tim Tofflemire, the employment coordinator at Job Quest. This was when the idea for Sit Down and Stand Up began to take shape. “Tim said to me, ‘you’ve got a lot to say, you should do a podcast’, so I started to think about that,” he said.
While in college, Dykstra shared that podcasts helped him manage the stressors that come with post-secondary life, and really supported and enhanced his mental health at the time. He had dabbled in trying out a few podcast ideas prior to his current undertaking, but felt as though they lacked creativity and originality. “I wanted to do something that was new, that other people hadn’t done before,” he said.
With over three million podcasts available online, the life of a podcaster is far from easy. “If you want to be successful, it’s not something that is going to happen overnight,” shared Dykstra. He noted that each interview he does requires over five hours of work to edit, resulting in a 20 to 30 minute final take, which is aired at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays in an attempt to bring a little joy and inspiration to listeners in the mornings.
Dykstra finds his guests via a program called “Backstage” which is a talent tracker, or via Instagram influencers. He generally tries to stick to a theme with his guests, and organize interviews months in advance. In April, the theme will be limb difference awareness and autism, to align with the significant dates throughout the month.
While the podcasts take time to facilitate and create, Dykstra said that they are eye-opening to not only listeners, but also to himself and the guests he welcomes on the show. “It’s amazing to hear how similar we all are,” he said.”We all have these similar passions and challenges, but we all have different ways we’ve dealt with them.”
Sit Down and Stand Out is a free podcast, available on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, I Heart Radio, and via Dykstra’s website, www.rollingdragonmedia.com.