Monday, May 27, 2013

Pep Talk: "Almost Over Too"

The funerals have begun as Oklahomans grieve the latest edition of Mother Nature’s wrath upon the town of Moore. About ten miles south of Oklahoma City, on the way to Norman for south-bound travelers, the residents seem to dwell at the epicenter of Tornado Alley. An expert says of the area, “Welcome to the sweet spot of severe thunderstorms.”

When it comes to presidential declarations of disaster, in the last 60 years, Oklahoma is third behind only California and Texas. Much bigger states in terms of population and land mass. The 1999 twister in Moore was actually worse in terms of deaths, destruction and area. Adversity for sure.

The road ahead will not be easy for a community that continues to bury loved ones far too young to perish. The road ahead will not be easy for a community that wonders, “Could we become better at respecting the power of nature?” as the aftermath chatter becomes national debate. The road ahead will not be easy for a community that prays for one another to muster courage and resolve to build again.

If history is any indication, Moore, Oklahoma will bounce back and become better from the challenge. It just seems that’s the way Oklahomans operate. At least the one’s I know well. Most of the folks I’ve ever met from the land of the Sooners are quality folks. They seem to have a “can-do” spirit about them. Admirable.

One of my best sportscasting buddies is Bob Barry, Jr., long-time sports anchor at KFOR-TV, the NBC-affiliate in Oklahoma City. We’ve know each other for ever, mainly through covering University of Colorado athletic events against either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. Good man, been at the station more than 30 years. We’ve covered many sporting events together.

He was on our radio show, Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman, the other day talking about the tragedy. We touched on many topics, including what the situation was at the time on the ground. Barry also reminded folks that, right now, the best thing, in terms of helping, is sending cash donations to the American Red Cross.

“The people of Oklahoma have been through a lot of late with the Murrah bombing, the 1999 twister and now this,” said the affable Barry during our chat. “But the resolve of that community and this state will get us through the storm.” Well said.

My mind wanders to thoughts of those who perished. Their families. Those injured. Their families. First responders. Their families. Life will never be the same. It has changed dramatically from this experience. The question becomes, “What will that change look like?”

From the entire team at Victory, thoughts and prayers are with the afflicted. The road ahead will not be easy as the community, again, begins the process of healing physically, emotionally and financially. 

Video from inside a teacher’s classroom during the tornado’s destructive stroll through her school, still burns brightly in my brain. I grow up in the MIdwest. Experienced many “tornado warning and watch” moments as a child. They scared me. I have heard numerous times the “It sounds like a freight train” description of when a tornado roars through someone’s world.

I finally experienced it first-hand in watching continuing coverage of a furious twister demolishing everything in its path on a 17-mile rip through the red-tinted soil of America’s 46th state. I experience that “freight train” sound from television. From video capturing the horror inside a teacher’s classroom. 

It’s pitch black. You can’t see a thing. You hear plenty. Screams of terrified children. Mother Nature’s roar. Finally, a constant voice heard above the din: The teacher imploring the kids to hang in there. “It’s Almost over! It’s almost over! It’s almost over!”

If this brave and courageous soul said it once, she said it 20 times. “It’s almost over!”
Finally, it was. All were safe. At least physically. The emotional scars, to be determined.

The confident exhortation, despite the peril present, of a teacher to a room full of freaked-out kids. It was inspiring to experience. Talk about cool under pressure. Wow. I want her on my team when there’s only one way out of the fray. 

What about us? Where might it be time in our lives to hang in there with all the courage and resolve we’re able to muster from our marrow? Recently, darling fiancee and I rejoiced at a celebration dinner for a dear friend who, once again, whipped breast cancer. She passed through the “almost over” phase and emerged vibrant, beautiful and blessed.

We just never know when life is going to blow through and scatter debris for miles. The catastrophes arrive from different destinations. This week, let’s try like heck to remember the encouraging words of a woman who helped a bunch of frazzled elementary-school kids ride the storm out.

We mourn for those who died. We send well-wishes to those recovering. We salute those who, when called to action, performed admirably.

We encourage others, folks like you and me, perhaps, to find hope from this incredible teacher’s words. If the storms are howling, find the strength to believe what ails is almost over too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pep Talk: "Pulverize The Blind Spots"

It’s become a treasured time for septuagenarian mother and Baby Boomer son. Friday mornings, on the way to an important weekly meeting, a phone call to the Midwest. Patsy Perry and second-youngest child, the scribe of this Pep Talk, chatting.

On this particular occasion, while this aging jock headed directly into the rising Centennial State sun on a spectacular May day, the conversation was about blind spots. We each have them. Don’t we all? Physically and mentally?

In this case, at least physically, cataracts are to blame for the blind spots shared by mother and son. I can’t see out of my left eye anymore. A big blow to the head, while a teenager, has led to premature cataracts. The one in the right eye was fixed about a decade ago. It’s time to repair the left eye. It’s impairing my ability to operate machinery effectively. While driving, when turning to check, literally, the blind spot over the left shoulder, this simple dude from Missouri must rotate the noggin’ far enough so the right eye assists in the process. The head’s on a swivel.

Meanwhile, Patsy Sue Perry’s just getting old. Cataracts happen to folks nearing their eighth decade of dwelling on this planet. It’s just the way it is.

Blind spots. From a physical standpoint, at least for cataract sufferers, modern-day science and technology assists tremendously in eliminating the problem. But what about emotional blind spots? Spiritual ones too? Is there any surgical technique available to eradicate them? What follows, perhaps, affirmatively answers that question.

After concluding the conversation, an overactive cranium was grinding on that thought while wandering into the weekly gathering of knuckleheads who joke, cajole and verbally abuse one another, in a loving way, while studying the Bible.

It’s a fascinating group of guys cherished for vulnerability, faith and unity. In a world too often characterized with uncertainty and betrayal, I know these dudes have my back. They’re the kind of guys a buddy, Billy Mac from Hackensack, would salute for “charging out of the foxhole together. Shoulder to shoulder. One heart beat.”

I like hanging with those types of folks. Like-minded in spirit. Men and women, like you, who respond to these musing. Thanks. I love your thoughts and feedback!

Anyway, one of the regulars, shared a story that, for whatever reason, took my thoughts back to the earlier conversation with mother about blind spots. It’s a story about boxing. Born at the University of Notre Dame under legendary football coach Knute Rockne.

Rockne formed the school’s boxing club in 1920‘s. About a decade later, Coach Dominic “Nappy” Napolitano took over and shot the program to new heights by thinking of others and their suffering. He pulverized a blind spot.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries. Located in South Asia, at the apex of the Bay of Bengal, it’s the size of Wisconsin but contains half the population of the entire United States. It’s crowded. The country is characterized by desperate poverty. 80 percent of its citizens live on less than $2 a day. 

Coach “Nappy” turned the school’s boxing program, and the competition that culminates with the annual Bengal Bouts championship, into a fundraising event for Holy Cross Missions. It has locations scattered throughout Bangladesh. Through these missions, priests, brothers and sisters attempt to battle poverty with education and health care.

This passage has been pulled directly from the Notre Dame website: “The funds raised by the Bengal Bouts have built primary and technical schools as well as health care clinics. They have paid for the education of impoverished high school and college students providing young men and women with the skills to support their families now and into the future. Everyday, Bengal Bouts is changing the lives of the boxers in the program and their Bengali friends on the other side of the world.”

More than eight decades ago, a coach did not have a blind spot to the plight of others. Bengal Bouts has grown. for its sportsmanship and mission, into one of the most respected amateur competitions in the country. Each year the student/athletes who compete also travel to Bangladesh to serve the poorest of the poor.

The man had everybody’s attention around the table. His son is a Notre Dame student, bout warrior and headed for the impoverished country. It’s a volatile situation considering the presence of militants who oppose, often with violence, the presence of Holy Cross missionaries. A concerned parent was asking buddies to pray for safe passage for beloved son and others in the traveling party.

The room had grown quiet as the financial advisor muttered the motto of those, including his son, who compete and care: “Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished.”

Where might there be blind spots in our lives? Where might it be time to fix the cataract that prevents us to see how our talents, when utilized in healthy and productive fashion, might benefit others?

This week, let’s pulverize those blind spots!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pep Talk: "Those We Influence"

Nobody in youth sports was more punctual to practice; had a cleaner uniform or more moral support, thanks mom.

Mother’s Day 2013. Patricia Sue Perry resides about 600 miles east of the Mile High City. She’s not seen much physically these days but certainly resides in my heart with thoughts, prayers and frequent phone calls.

The intelligent and articulate soul has not had an easy life. Few of us do.

Now in her upper 70’s “Chatty Patty” calls Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman often to talk about the sports topics of the day. I enjoy sitting back and watching the opinionated septuagenarian and co-host Eric Goodman debate. It’s amusing to observe the look on my partner’s face. That look of, “This is your mother. Is it okay to debate?”

I chuckle warmly, nod affirmatively, and mutter silently, “Welcome to my world.”

Despite a turbulent childhood, early motherhood, marriages that could not sustain and unfortunate alienation from family, the woman who gave me life has seemed to always rise from the ashes to fight another day.

Reflecting back on the days of my youth, it was all about sports. All the eggs were in one basket for this freckled-faced, buck-toothed southpaw from Raytown, Missouri. Nobody played a larger role in supporting the dreams than my feisty mother.

I was usually the first to arrive at practice. I’m sure there were other things on the self-proclaimed “Missouri farm girl’s” duty list those days considering there were three other kids in our comfortable suburban Kansas City home. Somehow, someway, mom always got me there on time.

Mike, Debbie and Matt, three siblings in order of age, had their respective interests and desires. How mom managed to make sure everybody was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be, was nothing short of astounding.

In caring for our needs, it seems mom found an escape from a childhood where it was often unclear who really cared for hers. This much I do know, she taught me from an early age the importance of responsibility. Be punctual.

Games days of my youth were always filled with excitement and anticipation. I couldn’t wait to pull on the baseball, basketball or football gear and head into battle. Nobody had a cleaner uniform. Nobody had a more diligent sentry ensuring that the balls, bats, cleats, gloves, helmets, shoes and other stuff necessary to compete were in the duffel bag. I was taught from an early age, be prepared. Thanks mom.

Born in rural northwest Missouri and raised in a city, St. Joseph, known for being the “Home of the Pony Express,” Patsy Sue had her own dreams of being an athlete. That was unusual and, considering it was the 1940’s, unacceptable for a young female. Sports and girls were not synonymous back then. Few encouraged her to compete. In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to comprehend why she enjoyed, after getting me to games on time with required equipment and sparkling uniform, sitting in the stands and cheering on the team.

Those of you who are frequent readers of the weekly Pep Talks know encouragement is a favored word. Defined as “to give hope and confidence to,” every time this aging jock stepped to the plate, under center,  or the foul line of youth sports, there was usually a “Come on Marko!” booming from mom’s mouth. From an early age, I learned the importance, and power, of being supportive. Thanks mom.

Time, experiences and life continue to roll on. Wonderful memories of childhood fade a bit as the journey brings unexpected and unwanted challenges physically, emotionally and financially. What’s the old saying, “Life gets in the way of our best laid plans?”

Through it all, it’s heartwarming to know one thing has remained constant. Like the flow of the mighty Missouri River that forever streams southward on the western edge of Patsy Sue Perry’s hometown, my mother has never failed to be supportive of my endeavors.

Athlete. Student. Injured athlete. Sportscaster. Husband. Father. Single parent. Speaker. Author. Business Owner. In all endeavors for this simple dude from Missouri, mom’s encouraging words remain, “Come on Marko!”

On your special day, thanks mom. You taught me at a tender age three important qualities I plan on taking to the grave. A terrific trio that, while not ensuring success, certainly don’t hinder the effort wherever we roam.

Be punctual. Be prepared. Be supportive. Mom was a guiding light, demonstrating these traits. Let’s do the same this week for those we influence - home, work and elsewhere!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pep Talk: "Defining Our Dashes"

We all have had a birth date. We all will have a death date. The question becomes, what happens in between? It’s called defining our dash.

For example, my late father was born in 1931, passed from lung cancer in 2007. For Marvin Walter McIntosh, Jr. it’s 1931-2007. His dash was characterized by an ability to bounce back from adversity and a wonderful personality. People were attracted to my old man.

Thoughts of defining our dash rumbled through my brain as tears rolled down my cheeks recently during a memorial service for Ann Abernethy. An incredibly vibrant and beautiful mother of two succumbed to brain cancer at the tender age of 54.

I was among the mourners jammed into Good Shepherd Catholic Church on Denver’s near-east side. We were saying goodbye to a woman born in 1958, in Casper, Wyoming. Her timeline reads 1958-2013. Her dash was impressive and too short.

When thinking of words to define Abernethy’s dash, many come to mind. Among them, the following: creative, ambitious, caring, funny and optimistic. Upon graduation from high school, the animal lover attended Regis University in Denver, graduating Magna Cum Laude. She was damn good at marketing. 

Abernethy spent 22 years at the Denver Post as Director of Research and Marketing. She also worked at Email Vision as Director of Client Services. When not working, or gardening, Abernethy’s passion was her kids, sons Ian and Devin. Especially the boys’ parochial-school educational experience at Good Shepherd. 

A brief description from the memorial program describes her beautifully: “Ann lived life to the fullest through people, travel, music and good wine. Her sense of adventure and fun-loving spirit touched so many lives. Ann was actively involved in many charitable organizations, including Good Shepherd Catholic School, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Women’s Bean Project, just to name a few. Ann had a passion for animals, gardening and her wonderful friends. She was an amazing mother and her boys were her world.”

A sense of adventure and fun-loving spirit. Two wonderful traits that certainly defined Ann Abernethy’s dash. She touched my life, that’s for sure. Despite the trials and tribulations life brought her way, divorce and illness major ones, Abernethy’s spirit refused to be dampened.

A visit with her in the final days confirmed that. I had been asked to offer a prayer for her at a school function, a celebrity basketball game. I inquired, “What would you like me to share with those gathered?” Bedridden with her body shutting down from the brain cancer, Abernethy managed to muster her incredible smile and joked, “That I get up from here and show up for the game.”

As the service and tears continued, my mind wandered to another dear friend who recently departed: Valerie Vinestock. This dynamic spirit had numbers of 1935-2013. Cancer also won with her. Val was my gym buddy.

We worked out at the same time each morning at Kinetics Fitness Studio, just a few blocks south of the church where a community grieved the loss of Ann. The Kinetics family had gone through a similar experience just a few weeks earlier. At her service, everyone was encouraged to keep Val’s spirit alive with this offer: “To celebrate Val’s life, love and positive force she brought into this world, take a friend to lunch and give them a big hug.”

Val was a rowing and hugging fanatic. I perspire a lot when working out. Most at the gym joke, “My goodness McIntosh, it looks like you just took a shower.” Most take a wide path around me, not Val. She would always, despite this aging jock’s “wringing wet from sweat” condition, respond with a big hug. We’d joke together that her acceptance of me was “unconditional.” 

Love, positive attitude and unconditional acceptance of others. Three great traits that certainly defined Val Vinestock’s dash.

The priests leading the Abernethy service were wrapping things up when my mind wandered to a third fantastic woman who passed recently. Lyndi McCartney. Her numbers were 1943-2013. Her dash, described in a recent Pep Talk, was filled with incredible empathy and passion for others, including complete strangers. The devoted wife, mother and grandma had a great gift of sensing despair and offering hope to counter it.

Three amazing human beings lost. Their dashes defined by all things good.

Our dashes are not complete. There is no certainty to the end date. All we truly control is the here and now. Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s but a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it’s call the present.

This week, let’s take advantage of the present. Let’s take cues from Ann, Val and Lyndi. Let’s allow the great qualities defining their dashes, to define ours. We will be better for the effort.

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