Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pep Talk: "Let's Do It!"

Boston Marathon. Sandy Hook. Aurora.

Recent polls suggest Americans have come to accept that terrorism is “part of life.”


I know from the radio show I co-host weekdays on Mile High Sports Radio, it certainly is a frequent topic of conversation. Even on sports talk shows like Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman where we normally chatter about the good, bad and ugly of the local and national sports scene.

Americans, it seems, are frustrated, scared and bewildered. Nobody, or few, likes the direction our nation is headed. However, it seems there’s a sense of helplessness when it comes to achieving our goals and overcoming our challenges.

And the challenges are plentiful. We talk, guilty as charged, much about what needs to be done, but then, for reasons baffling to your correspondent, rarely act on ideas suggested in attempting to resolve what ails us.

Let’s take a peek at the national issues dominating the headlines: Immigration, health care, gun control, national security, fiscal responsibility, economic stability and many others beyond my grasp to remember at the time of this writing.

While driving to work the other day, I was listening to the Irv and Joe Show that airs right before Eric Goodman and I take over from 3-6pm weekdays. Irv Brown is a Denver icon: High school and college coach, Hall of Fame basketball official turned legendary sports talk show host and, most important, a man who cares deeply about others. Two women were on his show talking about an upcoming golf tournament that will raise money to support families who have lost children to cancer. She told a heartbreaking story of economic destitution while trying to keep her child alive in the fight against cancer. She lost that battle and was financially broke from the effort.

Really? Our national health care system has become so jacked up that the cost of saving a child’s life can wipe out a family’s finances forever? We all know that’s crazy to fathom. Unfortunately, we all know it’s also far too common place.

What do do? About health care costs or any other tribulation before us?

We need to quit talking and have the courage to act in making progress to solving the “elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-room” issues staring us in the face. Actions speak louder than words, right?

Fear seems to win the battle with courage these days. “What if it’s not the right solution?” Well, what if it is?

Whenever blessed to present a live Pep Talk, we always talk about, in the face of adversity, the importance of mustering courage to put fear aside and allow wonderment to win in creating productive choices to the challenges we face. The challenges may come from a variety of places - home, work and elsewhere. The venues change, but the strategies, my opinion, in dealing with the challenges rarely do.

I know, it’s real easy to stand before an audience and encourage them to embrace this philosophy. It’s real easy to write about it too. Yes, it’s far more difficult to execute such a game plan. We need a mental resolve that doing nothing is no longer an option.

The challenges might be physical, emotional or financial. They might be local, regional, national or international. Again, the origin is irrelevant. What matters is our reaction. Are we going to learn from experiences life throws our way, or become victims of them?

We talk incessantly about fixing what ails us as a nation, human being, family, wage earner or whatever. Too much damn talking and not enough doing. “What if it’s not right?” Well, what if it is? 

When will courage win the battle with fear? For our nation? For our selves? You don’t want to believe what an aging jock is suggesting? Well then, how about embracing the words of Shakespeare? He once bellowed, “Our doubts are traitors that make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

He’s right.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, it is time to quit talking and start doing. If hesitant to act because of uncertainty whether what’s being considered is “the right thing,” try and embrace this simple test. When it comes to acting on ideas to become superior to our former selves, ask yourself three questions. Does the action honor me? Nurture those dependent upon me? Add value to the communities I serve?

If the answers are yes, yes and yes. Go for it!  The plan might not be perfect. It will probably require some tweaking along the way. Underachieving is a part of life. It happens sometimes. Acceptance and long-term dwelling in the underachievement motal is not okay. I write those words as much for me as anybody.

Turning life’s lemons into margaritas requires action. We’ll make some mistakes along the way but we’ll learn from them and get better. Rarely is that a bad thing.

Enough talking, let’s do it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pep Talk: "Miracle Factor?"

It doesn’t happen often. However, there are times when something crashes into cranium with great force. The impact induces a pause in the action.

The latest occurrence happened Friday evening while trying to not be a nuisance. I was sitting at home in pajamas. Darling fiancee out of town on company gig. It might have been a tad early, 6:30pm, but body and mind were a tad weary. I was settling down for Rockies baseball. A beer, newspaper and remote at the ready. Mellowed out.

A story in the morning’s Denver Post knocked me back in my chair with greater force than Carlos Gonzalez crushing a fastball over the wall. It spoke to the power of love.

Remember the tragic story a while back? A troubled 23-year-old Denver woman shot her three young children then turned the gun on herself. Terrible. Mom and two of the kids died. Three-year-old Isabella somehow, someway, was spared.

The initial prognosis was not good. Most doctors didn’t believe the middle child in the sibling trio would survive the shotgun wounds to her head. There are exceptions to every rule, right? Here’s proof.

“When everything happened, we heard nothing good,” said grandma Alma Bernal to the Post.  “Sad things like ‘If she makes it.’ If, if, if all the time. The first week I got here from New Mexico I was afraid I’d lose her too.” 

Wow. Can you imagine that family’s sorrow? A mother, six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son are dead. A lone survivor facing long odds for life. Take your pick on how you want to explain what follows. Doctors, nurses and others caring for this warrior told the Post reporter it’s a miracle. 

Shot in the head in early February, a dire initial prognosis and then, less than three months later, Isabella’s released from the hospital. Out of the hospital and heading south to a new start in New Mexico with her father, Grandma Bernal and other family. 

The road ahead is challenging. Isabel, despite the head injuries, can speak, move her arms and sit unassisted. She can’t walk yet but doctors say there’s a good chance that will change down the road. Recovery will take years, physically and emotionally. This young girl seems to have the spirit for the journey.

Here’s what burrowed into the marrow. A comment from a doctor who spent much time with the young girl and her family: “She was a complete delight. A sweetheart of a girl,” said the doctor. “You can really feel the love from her family. I think that so much drives this degree of recovery.”

The love of family, according to the physician, drove this degree of recovery. Some would call that a miracle, a dear friend would call it a fluke and others would offer other explanations. Who cares what you call it.

I think it speaks to the power of love. It speaks to the power of perseverance. It speaks to the power of prayer. It speaks to trying like heck to keep a positive attitude about the crap that comes our way. Always at the worst damn time.

Stuff happens. This we know. Rarely will it be as dramatic as what surrounds Isabella. But it sounds like those around her decided to make the best of it and love on her something fierce and, ya know, “See what happens.” A family in mourning for the madness eliminating three lives, finding the courage and strength to remain strong in its support of this darling angel. 

What about us? No doubt, most have something going on right now. It might be a physical, emotional or financial challenge. How will we react? We will take a cue from Isabella’s family and rise above the fray?

It’s real easy to talk about the correct response. Far more difficult to execute. We’re human. That’s why it’s so darn important to keep rallying with others. We encourage one another to effectively deal with life’s unexpected and unwanted twists and turns. We’re present for one another in the tough times.

Blasts in Boston and central Texas had dominated the news of late. The bad guys in Boston, respectively, dead and captured. In the Lone Star State, cause still unknown why fertilizer plant blew to smithereens. Mellow and somber mood. Then along came a baseball game, cold beer and a story. Each soothing. The latter, to the soul. 

It also brought this truth into an aging jock’s mind: Let’s never underestimate the power of encouraging words for others and ourselves. Who knows, they might be a major factor in a miracle.

What the heck. Try it this week. It just might work.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pep Talk: "What Could We Learn"

The long flight from Paris, France to Toronto, Ontario, Canada was nearing its conclusion. To pass the time on the almost eight-hour trek, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln had been watched. A good book, It Happened on the Way to War, had been read. But there was still an hour remaining in the air over the eastern edge of America’s northern neighbor. What to do?

I began to watch a documentary focusing on desperate times in America back in the 1930‘s. The time of the Dust Bowl. For almost six years farmers in the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico fought Mother Nature’s cruel wrath. Too little rain and too much wind. My goodness, talk about perseverance in the face of adversity. Farmers in the effected area went almost six years without producing a crop as moisture evaporated, winds howled and dust accumulated. Weather conditions and ill-advised soil conservation methods resulted in misery and despair for almost 500,000 American families.

Some packed their meager belongings and headed for California’s fertile Central Valley with hope of a better future. Few found relief. Instead many faced discrimination similar to what Blacks faced at the same time in the deep South. “Okies” were not welcomed and often were treated as second-class citizens in the Golden State’s rich agricultural belt.

But most chose to remain on their land. Times were tough. Fiercely independent men and women turned to the federal government. Under president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, policy makers began rewarding farmers embracing new soil conservation practices. Meanwhile, many were threatened with losing their land if they chose to not change tactics, in an area of our nation known, at the time, as “No Man’s Land.”

Almost 80 years ago, Amarillo, Texas was the largest population center of the region. Our nation’s 32nd president made a surprise visit to the city in the Lone Star State’s panhandle. An estimated 200,000 folks, four times the area’s population, turned out to see Roosevelt. In part demanding the federal government take a larger role in saving the livelihoods of so many. Farmers are independent spirits but these were desperate times.

Local newspapers encouraged anyone who was musically inclined to join what was called “The World’s Largest Marching Band” as it welcomed the Democrat with a boisterous rendition of The Eyes of Texas. What happened next has been described as ironic, fortuitous and by some, miraculous. It began to rain. Hard. A deluge. Precious moisture. For the farmers and their families, tears from heaven. Precipitation, better farming techniques and federal aid finally offered hope for the afflicted.

As I sat there and felt the Air Canada jet begin its descent into Toronto, I had an overwhelming sense of admiration for those who endured the suffering. Whenever blessed to encourage others with a live Pep Talk, we always discuss how life rarely goes as planned. Stuff happens leaving us wondering, “What the heck is going on around here?”

The unexpected and unwanted challenges life throws our way come from many sources. It might be Mother Nature, illness, job loss, relationship meltdown or whatever. The team at Victory Productions understands the venues change but encourages others to achieve goals and overcome challenges through embracing a belief the strategies for dealing with the challenges never waver.

Change is constant. What’s unpredictable is where it strikes. Physical? Emotional? Financial? Who knows? The only thing constant in life is change, right? Face it, change is constant. So too, how we face it. Four steps are critical: First, we focus on becoming a student, not victim of the circumstance. Second, we understand we’re not alone. Third, we seek out others in similar situations and fourth, we encourage one another to overcome fear with courage in effectively dealing with whatever ails us - home, work and elsewhere.

This journey, we describe as life, will kick up the storms, we know that. If the winds are howling ferociously, remember the resilience vividly demonstrated in a Dust Bowl documentary about hardship on the Central Plains in the 1930’s. What’s the old saying, “Tough times never last but tough people do?” Believe it.

The airliner glided onto the runway at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It brought the film to an end. As we taxied toward the gate a simple dude from Missouri thought about the challenges confronting America today and what lessons could be learned from the past. The downtrodden farmers had no control over Mother Nature but learned from the experience, united with one another and committed to better farming techniques, especially when it came to soil conservation. Uniting and encouraging one another also kept something very important alive: hope. Remember the definition of encouragement: “Give hope and confidence to.” 

Challenges. Adversity. Catastrophe. Hope. Confidence. Life. Time marches on but some things remain the same. Stuff happens. The great question always is this: “How will we react?” This week, despite the storms howling and threatening our existence, let’s take a cue from the Okies. Drought and wind almost destroyed their livelihood but nothing could terminate their spirit.  

What could we learn from them?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pep Talk: "Stock the Pantry"

There’s plenty to savor about Fridays. Especially, at least for this simple dude from Missouri, first Fridays. Yep. The first Friday of each month I have the pleasure of sitting in for an hour on another Mile High Sports radio show. It’s called the Sports Nooner

Hosted by Gil Whitely, it airs from 11am-1pm. Gil’s a good buddy of many years. We bust each other’s chops for the first hour of the month’s first Friday. Recent timing had us doing our thing from a sports bar near Coors Field. It was Rockies’ opening day in Lodo. A very interesting place to people watch.

Anyway, after wrapping up the chat with Whitely, I was visiting with some of the Rockies’ fans gathering at the establishment in anticipation of the first pitch between the home town team and its visitors, the San Diego Padres.

In conversing with an engaging women, it’s discovered she’s a teacher. “I knew I was going to be a teacher when I was a kid,” the lady mentioned. “I used to play school and I was in charge.” I listened intently with great admiration. What flowed from my lips afterward is, at least my opinion, a wonderful example of a simple truth: Dreams do come true.

I began to tell this woman about the Good Shepherd Foundation. It was born back in 2000.  A group of parents at a Denver parochial school saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. 14 years later, with the Good Shepherd annual event approaching, this mustard seed has flourished in encouraging the school to achieve goals and overcome challenges.

Like so many things in life, the foundation was born in adversity. “Mark, I love this school SO MUCH.” A tearful grown man muttered those words to your scribe long ago. He was the school’s third-grade teacher. The only male teacher on the staff at the time. My son, now 23 years old, had “Mr. Frank” the preceding year. I cherished a man being part of the educational process for my son. Mr. Frank was a good teacher. He was also leaving. “I’m only making $19,000 a year. I have an offer with a public school that would pay me close to $30,000.”

Shortly after this discussion, I was lucky enough to run into another school parent, a buddy, and shared the news of our school’s loss. It began a dialogue about how to effectively deal with the constant problem plaguing parochial school education. It’s teachers make 37% less than public sector comrades. It shrinks the talent pool.

We knew there must be a way to attract and retain quality teachers. The foundation was born with a mission to “care for our kids’ mentors.” The objective of the non profit was to provide salary bonuses and continuing education assistance to Good Shepherd’s teachers. The concept has worked beyond anyone’s expectations. It has enriched the educational experience for Good Shepherd’s kids, parents, faculty and staff. Dreams do come true.

The woman, splendent in Rockies’ attire, was wide-eyed by the time I finished the story. “Wow. Way cool” she whispered. I countered with, “I hope where you teach middle school you have similar support from parents and others. You have a very important job.”

The lady’s husband walked up. He’s an award-winning high school principal. It was time to head across the street to the ball game. The darling couple departed. They certainly left an impression. A woman and man dedicated to enriching children with wisdom and hope. Highly qualified professionals at encouraging kids to dream.

Later in the day, on our show, The Odd Couple, partner Eric Goodman and I were talking with sports journalism legend Mike Lupica. The New York Daily News columnist and ESPN Sports Reporters contributor was talking, graciously, about his incredible career. The Boston College graduate is the Denver Press Club’s 2013 Damon Runyon Award winner. The author of more than 30 books was on the show to talk about speaking at the event. We also took time to discuss hot sports topics. There were many this day including the Rutgers University fiasco.

“I grew up always wanting to be a sportswriter and live in New York City.” Lupica shared with us. “I am so fortunate that is exactly what has happened. Dreams do come true.”

Yep. If you don’t want to believe me, believe Lupica. Dreams do come true. I know, no guarantees. Where are dreams taking you right now? Do you have any? If yes, yay! If not, why not? Life will kick us around for sure. It’s tough sometimes when we’re in dire straights to think about dreaming. Do it any way. Also, share those dreams with others you trust have your best interests at heart. They can encourage you to persevere when the road ahead looks too challenging to conquer.

We must keep dreaming. We must have a desire to improve. To transform lemons into margaritas. It’s real simple to talk and write about it, far more difficult to execute. Hard work, sacrifice and perseverance are usually must ingredients in the dream-come-true recipe. 

Make sure the pantry is stocked with each this week!

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