- Special Sections
- Public Notices
For the last 10 years, Tom Durkin has been the voice of the Triple Crown on NBC. This year, he voluntarily chose to not renew his contract to announce the three most important horse races of the year. He is very open about the reason he gave up this very important announcing position. He is exhausted by the performance anxiety created by being the voice of such an important sporting event.
Performance anxiety affects people in many different ways. The higher profile the performance, the more evident the performance anxiety is to many people. For Durkin, it had an impact on his performance as well as his health.
The performance nightmare is highlighted by Durkin’s call of the 2009 Kentucky Derby. 2009 was the year 50-1 horse Mine That Bird surprised the horseracing world with a stunning upset. Mine That Bird started last and gradually made his way up the rail with Calvin Borel using his favorite strategy. Durkin is irritated he never saw the move that Mine That Bird was making until the horse burst into first place and won the race. For Durkin, it was an exciting race and yet one which changed his ability to call top horse races with confidence.
Performance anxiety is debilitating because it takes away what you know. Durbin is a very highly trained track announcer and will continue to work at tracks for calling regular horse races. Performance anxiety has impacted Durbin in two ways. First, since Mine That Bird was such a long shot, Durbin really never expected him to be a contender. Second, he never saw the horse make the move because he did not expect the horse to be a contender so his brain did not process the information. Performance anxiety took away his ability to see things happen in front of him which his mind did not believe would happen.
Long term performance anxiety also has an impact on the body. Physically, Durbin was beginning to notice disturbing challenges. Sleep disturbance was the first evident problem. He had very disturbing nightmares about his failure to accurately call horse races. Two examples he shared in interviews include; first, he would dream his binoculars had paint on the lenses and he could not get the paint off which meant he could not see the race.
The second example he shared focused on a cruise ship. He said he dreamed the cruise ship was on the backstretch with the horses and he could not see the horses. It did not matter what he did, he could not get the ship out of the way to call the race. Both of these examples illustrate how the mind gets distorted when it fears missing important information in a race. The “disaster” of the 2009 Kentucky Derby only made it worse.
Durbin has tried many remedies but none of them has helped him overcome the fear of missing important information during a Triple Crown race. Durbin felt his only choice was to quit participating in the environment which created such high levels of anxiety. This was a wise personal choice to preserve his own physical and emotional well being.
I wish him the best in his physical and emotional recovery and I hope he enjoyed this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Performance anxiety is real. It is imperative to work to contain its power so it does not take away the activities you love to do.
Dr. Keith Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County. He is the owner of the Wilson Center for Performance. He is also the performance consultant for the Louisville Lightning Professional Indoor Soccer Team. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.