If you were to look up the word hardship in the dictionary several years ago, there might have been a reference to Darwin F. Shaw’s life.
At 7, his childhood home burned down. At 9, his mother died and Shaw grew up without father, so it’s not hard to believe that triumph wasn’t following too far behind him.
“I could have given up on life when my mother died … Didn’t have a father figure in my household, but my drive comes from God,” said Shaw, who was the keynote speaker at the Alumni All-Stars Convocation series on Thursday at Kentucky State University’s Bradford Hall. Shaw is now an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and coach in his hometown, New Britain, Conn.
“Opportunities are earned not given” is one of his favorite quotes that he currently lives by today and that helped him through his studies at Kentucky State University.
Shaw arrived at Kentucky State in 1977 upon recommendation from his high school coach. He was told to find Dr. William Exum, who would eventually change his life.
“William Exum was like my best friend,” Shaw said. “He actually stayed and advised me out of his house for two years after retiring.”
Exum, whose name is honored on the athletic center on Kentucky State’s campus, is one of the reasons that Shaw decided to major in physical education and minor in health services in hopes of becoming a teacher. But, those four years awaiting graduation seemed further than he expected.
Shaw’s freshman year of college was filled with ups and letdowns while he was a part of the track team. “My inspiration came from coach Kenneth Gibson team my freshman year,” he said. Though he got kicked off the team that same year due to a bad decision.
Shaw didn’t give up as he returned to his favorite sport two years later as a walk-on. Shaw broke track team records and became MVP throughout his time at Kentucky State.
His dedication paid off when he graduated on May 9, 1982. Shaw fondly remembered walking across the stage at Capitol Plaza to receive his college degree. Shaw recalled Exum’s advice that he shared with him before his graduation.
“I want you to do three things, Mr. Shaw. First, I want you to walk across the stage on graduation day and remember how hard it was to accomplish that moment. Number two, go to California and compete as an All-American in the long jump and remember how your track career began,” Shaw said. “His final request — go back to New Britain, Conn., Shaw, and help some of those students realize and understand that the world is full of opportunities. Tell them that they need to find opportunities to make their lives worth living.”
Darwin F. Shaw is author of the book, ‘Becoming Coach Shaw: How I Learned to Run My Own Race.’
—LaTasia Jones, KSU staff writer