Thursday, May 5, 2011

An inspirational struggle ultimately lost to stage fright

Fear of public speaking is quite common. One popular anecdote says that many people fear speaking in front of a large audience more than they fear death. No doubt many teachers experience the jitters before the start of each semester or secretly battle occasional bouts of anxiety during the school year.  Students must have feelings about speaking in class that are at least as intense.  One of life's truisms is that we really have no clue what personal struggles others are dealing with just below the public persona we all affect.

A case in point is Tom Durkin who, until last week, was the widely recognized voice of the Kentucky Derby. Apparently Mr. Durkin has battled an acute fear of public speaking for years. He tried everything to overcome it; all manner of therapy failed to cure him. Despite never having made a mistake, he constantly worried that one day he'd blow the big call.  Because the anxiety finally got to be too much, last week he resigned rather than struggle with stage fright any longer.

“It’s a tough professional decision, but a great personal one,” a relieved Mr. Durkin told Joe Drape, the Times racetrack writer, in quitting the premier job as television’s Triple Crown announcer. He poignantly told of years of anxiety eating at him even as his voice soared wire to wire with the thundering fields at the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
. . . .

The new voice Saturday will be the veteran Larry Collmus. But Tom Durkin has already made Derby day special by retreating from it in plainly human terms. “Life is too short and precious,” was his parting call.

A compelling and oddly inspiring story; Mr. Durkin gave up his long struggle with anxiety over public speaking in exchange for peace of mind and self-acceptance.

You can read more here courtesy of the New York Times.


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