BETHANY, OKLAHOMA — One by one they take their turns.
Members of the Conoma Toastmasters, Club #454.
Each practicing to improve the art of public speaking.
Then comes Tabitha Pope.
“Hi,” she exclaims. “I’m a 4 foot, 9 inch, high maintenance mess!”
Her fellow Toastmasters smile and laugh.
“My grandma had a big personality,” says Tabitha. “She could just walk into a room and you knew she was there. I think I have that.”
For anyone who ever feared the limelight of a public speech, talking on stage, or performance of any kind, and that’s most of us, Tabitha offers hope.
“Because that’s a very brave thing to do for anyone,” prompts a club visitor. “I know,” she replies emphatically.”
Tabitha grew up a regular kid.
She was a cheerleader in high school and college.
Then at age 20 doctors diagnosed a brain tumor.
Two major surgeries in three years left her with nerve damage to the left side of her face, and a shattered self-image.
“I felt like I was a monster,” she recalls. “I didn’t look in mirrors and I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want anyone to see me.”
It took 8 years, the better part of a decade in solitude, afraid to face anyone let alone speak in front of a group.
But that personality of hers proved bigger by more than half a smile.
“I realized that people saw me and my spirit on the inside,” she says. “They saw me smiling the way I used to smile.”
Tabitha credits her husband and the grace of God for helping her get past her appearance.
Then, a couple of years ago, she got a new job and a co-worker brought her to a Toastmaster’s meeting.
One year later she was president of the club.
This year she won the Oklahoma Toastmasters Championship.
“It’s crazy,” she says of the competition. “I kept winning and I kept winning, and I kept thinking, ‘this is crazy.'”
In late August Tabitha will compete for a world Toastmasters title.
There, her inner beauty will be on full display.
“That’s what we’ll do,” she gushes. “I hope I win.”
Each year the Toastmasters International Club hosts a convention, the culmination of which is the crowing of the World Champion of Public Speaking.
Two Oklahomans are previous champions dating back to 1938.
Tabitha is one of 300 entered in the 2013 competition in Cincinnati, Ohio.