He Went Blind, Found His Calling; Now Shares His Story At Risk! Live Show

Chad Duncan was a recently married, 39-year-old special education teacher, when he awoke one morning to the loss of his sight.

It was 2009, and Duncan, a public high school teacher of 12 years, was to learn he had been struck with the blindness symptom of latent Choroideremia, a condition affecting an estimated 1 in 50,000 to 100,000 people, predominantly affecting males.

“I went to sleep, and when I woke in the morning, it was nothing before me but the static electricity you see on a TV screen, you know, the white noise when there’s no clear signal,” Duncan said.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I need to open my eyes.’ No difference. ‘Oh, I’m in a nightmare. I need to wake up.’ I sit up. No difference. ‘Oh, the power must be out.’ Stumble over to the light switch, switch it on and off. No difference,” he recounts.

His life would change overnight. What followed was depression, isolation and a sense of hopelessness. Eventually, his journey would lead to binge-listening to one of the many podcasts that had become his pastime: “Risk!” And the show would inspire him.

On Aug. 10, Duncan, of Dallas, will travel to Chicago with his wife and guide dog, Perry, to share his story at the “Risk!” live show,  coming to Chicago’s Lincoln Hall.


Chad Duncan, who lost his sight in 2009, found his calling listening to the “Risk!” podcast. Pictured here are his wife, Jennifer, and guide dog Perry, who also will travel with him to Chicago to participate in the “Risk!” live show Aug. 10 at Lincoln Hall. | Provided photo

Founded in August 2009 by Kevin Allison of MTV’s popular sketch comedy show, “The State,” “Risk!” began in New York, as a live show where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public. The podcast version, which has earned an ECNY Award for Best Podcast, launched in October 2009.

Today, “Risk!” has a second home in Los Angeles and a mega-successful podcast, featuring the likes of Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Andy Dick, Rachel Dratch and other notables sharing their stories. It tours to sold-out crowds.

“That day, we had already booked a trip to Egypt. My wife had married an able-bodied guy. She and I had a life that we envisioned together, and suddenly, my wife was the one earning our income,” Duncan says, still rendered teary by the memory.

“I didn’t know what I could do. I didn’t want to go out, feeling like a child when hanging onto my wife, or like people were looking at me when I used a cane. I felt worthless, like a burden to my wife. So I just lay in bed. I was so far down in the pit that the light at the top of the pit was gone,” Duncan said.

That’s when his grandparents bought him a first-generation IPad, with a VoiceOver feature to help him navigate the internet, and he soon discovered his favorite podcast.

“Some of the stories were really heavy, and I could relate to heavy, because that’s where I was,” said Duncan. “And I kept hearing resilience. I kept hearing overcoming, and soon, I started to realize I could still do things, like help around the house, fold clothes, do dishes. I started to feel less of a burden, got my confidence back.”

In 2011, after a school counselor friend reminded him he’d always had the heart of a social worker with his special-needs classrooms, Duncan decided to go back to school for social work. Obtaining his degree in late 2013 and license in early 2014, he applied for job after job.

“But nobody would hire a blind guy,” he recalls. “By 2015, I decided I might as well start giving it away, because I was confident in what I could do, and I needed to show people.”

Duncan signed up as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter. And the rest is history. He was formally hired as an intake specialist in November 2015 and promoted to crisis services coordinator in July 2017.

Then in January 2016, a friend who knew how much he loved the podcast, alerted him that “Risk!” was bringing its show to Dallas, suggesting he pitch his story. He did. They liked it, asked him to pare it down, and invited him to the stage for the Dallas show.

On Feb. 22, 2016, he was listening to the morning podcast, when he heard himself from the recorded live show. “I screamed!” he remembers. Then last November, “Risk!” called and informed him 37 of the best stories from the hundreds shared to date were being compiled in a book. His was one of them.

Published July 17, Duncan and several storytellers will be at a book signing of “Risk! True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share,” on Aug. 9 at Anderson’s Bookshop in La Grange. And the following day, Duncan will tell a brand new story at Lincoln Hall.

“It’s about running with Perry. Before, I was afraid to walk out of the house. I am now running with Perry as a completely blind man. I didn’t run when I could see. Perry has helped this caterpillar become a butterfly, ready to fly.”

Source : https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/went-blind-found-calling-shares-story-at-risk-live-show/

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