Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Give It A Shot!"

“I just hope and pray my dad is safe in prison,” was the gut-wrenching and heartfelt prayer. It came from an elementary school young man bravely baring his soul at our weekly gathering of Whiz Kids and their mentors.

I’m honored to be one of the mentors. My little buddy, fourth-grader at Denver public school on the west side of town, is turning into quite the ace when it comes to naming, by sight, all 50 of our country’s states. It’s been cool to watch him grow. But this Pep Talk ain’t about him.

Back to the story. The young man praying for an incarcerated father lives in a home with his mom and two brothers. Half siblings. Each of his brothers has a different father. Three kids. One mother. Three dads, one currently living in the home

One son praying big time for his father who is gone, but obviously not forgotten.

You wonder what will happen down the road? Will this incredibly bright and gifted young boy rise above the obvious challenges present? We know it happens. Probably not as much as we’d like, but we know it happens.

We read the great stories of heroes who overcome great odds to accomplish amazing stuff. Women. Men. White. Black. Brown. Different sizes, shapes and colors. As this young man continued to pray, with my eyes closed and tears welling, I summoned a quick prayer in my brain. I asked that this young guy find hope and confidence from his interaction with his mentor, me, and all the other men and women who gather as volunteers to nurture their souls.

Those who influence us. I was so lucky growing up in Raytown, Missouri. Wherever I went, I pretty much heard the same refrain: “McIntosh, if you work hard, make healthy choices, show respect for others and keep your nose out of trouble, you’ve got some potential.” Most of that dialogue was pointed toward my athletic career, which until a nasty head injury ended things, held lots of promise. But the venue doesn’t matter.

Whether it’s athletics, school, music, drama, science, community service or whatever is irrelevant. What matters is to encourage kids to immerse themselves in activities that, we hope, unveil their gifts and talents. In healthy and productive fashion. Having folks along the way who are encouraging - giving hope and confidence to - is rarely a bad deal. Support is super.

It’s true for each of us, regardless of age. 

A young boy’s prayer ended with, “I hope and pray my Daddy starts making better decisions.” A tender child longing for an absent father. Our impact. Good? Bad? Indifferent?

There’s amazing kids out there deserved of someone arriving as a shining light. Why not us? Home or elsewhere? Give it a shot!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pep Talk: "We Always Win"

“You did a great job and received many compliments.” The receptor of this praise began to blush a bit. “Ya know, when hosting those types of events you pour heart and soul into it. Then it’s over.” A simple dude from Missouri finished with, “It’s nice to get some feedback.”

This conversation was sparked by a call to the Loveland Chamber of Commerce. I was trying to reach President Mindy McCoughlan. I had hosted the organization’s first “Loveland Dancing with the Stars” event about a month ago. However, the kind words came from another Chamber employee who had answered the phone and informed me that the group’s savvy leader was busy.

“We raised more than $50,000 that night and now have given out more than $200,000 in grants.” Right on. We had a grand time and swelled the coffers of the Chamber’s grant program assisting local businesses after last year’s devastating floods.

In addition, an aging jock who loves to host things got to mark something off the ol’ bucket list. Yep. First, an admission to make. I’m envious of Tom Bergeron. Ya know, the guys who hosts “Dancing With The Stars?” Whenever darling fiancee forces me to watch the program - sports gal Erin Andrews is Bergeron’s new sidekick - fantasy begins to rumble around in my brain with this thought: “That sure looks like a lot of fun.”

So, on a smaller scale but for a greater cause, this lucky old father to two great kids got to experience the moment and check one more thing off the bucket list. Yay, me!

But the real fortune was to be around a whole bunch of other folks who truly care for one another. The floods of 2013 were historic and unprecedented. Lives, livelihoods and terrain were forever changed by Mother Nature’s wrath. It has led to much discussion about necessary changes to protect people, communities and vital natural resources being extracted from the land.

The spirit of Loveland. It’s a good one. Before getting back to the story, Mindy is married to one of my favorite all-time Colorado Buffaloes, cornerback Dave McCoughlan, He’s 
a walking, talking and breathing example of the city’s moxie. The fast, athletic and strong defensive back was a starter on the Buffs’ 1990 national championship team. He was a standout during his whole career in Boulder, and went on to play fours seasons in the National Football League. Since retiring, he’s stayed in the game as a scout. A rock solid guy, and always a great interview during my television days covering CU athletics. Fun to be around. Dependable. 

The floods might have knocked the community down, but there’s no way you can knock it out. The town was born in 1877, along a newly constructed line of the Colorado Central Railroad, Loveland is known for Valentine’s Day and its admirable resilience.

What about us? When the floods hit our lives and threaten to sweep us downstream, how do we react? I think of my buddy Billy Mac from Hackensack’s wise words: “It’s okay to get knocked down. Even lie there and bleed a bit. But you gotta get back up and keep marching.”

Amen, brother.

The stories shared that entertaining evening were inspiring and memorable. Businesses wiped out from the raging waters. Personal tragedies overcome. Courage and wonderment overcoming fear and self-doubt. A wonderful reminder of the power of the collective human spirit.

Those types of stories are not limited to the Loveland Chamber’s first DWTS competition. I hear there’s going be a second. I hope to be asked to return. Those types of stories unfold each and every day. Each of us has “stuff” going on. It might be the death of a child, personal illness, the Illness to a loved one, job loss, divorce, injury or any other “poked in the eye” devastating moment. The floods will hit. That we know. “When” is the big question, but an even bigger question is “How will we react?”

Take a big cue from the folks of Loveland, Colorado. When the waters rise to destructive levels, let’s make sure we throw one another a lifeline. Let’s come together and encourage one another to persevere. That does not mean it’s gonna be easy. In all probability, it will be quite difficult. It will require us to move forward focused on the future, not dwelling upon the past, and trusting the waters will recede.

As I like to encourage the dudes at Denver Rescue Mission each Thursday during chapel service, “We gotta let it go!” The power of unity. I know some folks think it’s corny but, in my opinion, there’s great potential when we rally and offer hope and confidence to one another to achieve goals and overcome challenges. 

Sometimes we succeed. We always win. Do it this week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pep Talk: "Dante, Joe, Cat & Charlie"

Two things to love and cherish. Baseball and dependability. Perhaps you might wonder, “Hey knucklehead, what the heck do baseball and dependability have in common?”

Thanks for asking. Here goes.

First, some background. I have always loved baseball. The first championship team I played on was a youth baseball team in Raytown, Missouri. I had some crazy moments playing the sport including striking out 19 of 21 batters in a game one time. As a somewhat wild southpaw, in a seven-inning game, this simple dude from Missouri walked the other two and picked them off first base. No player on the other team ever put a ball in play. Weird.

Years later, as a five-tool center fielder, baseball was certainly my best option to play sports professionally. A crash to the floor ended all that. Many years as a sports guy did nothing to extinguish my flame for the sport. Today? There are few things more enjoyable than sitting with a buddy at the ballpark on a summer night. Beer. Peanuts. Hot dog. Baseball. For those faithful to the boys who dwell at 20th and Blake in lower downtown Denver, let’s hope the cellar-dwelling home team gives us something to cheer about this season.

I love baseball and the beautiful diamonds it’s played on.

Now to the dependability thread. I take you back to 1993. It was the first season for the Colorado Rockies. As a television sports guy for KCNC-TV in Denver, part of my responsibilities were covering the Don Baylor-managed crew’s inaugural campaign. Finally, the Rocky Mountain region had major league baseball!

It was a crazy year. The Rockies, playing at cavernous Mile High Stadium, drew 4.5 million fans, still a major league record. Rockiesmania was alive and well. I was blessed to be along for the journey while describing the compelling story to the loyal viewers of “Colorado’s News Channel.”

But while it was a joyful ride for the long-deprived major-league baseball fans of the region, in the bowels of the stadiums, away from the adoring fans, it was a tough season for the team.  How do you feel when you’re part of an effort - home, work or elsewhere - where you’re constantly getting your butt kicked? You can grow weary of the journey, right?

Toward the end of the season, the members of the 1993 team were growing weary of losing and answering questions from the local media about it. Trust me, as a member of the probing gang, I was growing weary of trying to phrase the question differently. How many different ways can you say, “This sucks”?

Anyway, I had a job to do, so the questions were asked. Four players stand out for being dependable and available to answer them. A long-delayed thank you to the following: Dante Bichette, Joe Girardi, Andres Galarraga and Charlie Hayes.

The team lost 95 games. Night after night, that fantastic foursome would always be present in front of their lockers once the media was allowed into the team clubhouse after the customary 10-15 minute “cooling off” period.

By the time the gathered media poured through the doors, most Rockies would have escaped to the dining area and training room, each off limits to the media.

Not Dante, Joe, Cat and Charlie. They were always there. Dependable dudes.

Bichette was the team’s left fielder. Cool dude. Good sense of humor. Laid back. Girardi was more serious, exuding leadership skills that have served the catcher well as a major league manager. Cat? Andres Galarraga was a trip. Always smiling, exuberant. Only problem was, the Venezuelan-born slugger, the NL batting champ that year, spoke very broken English. We’d get back to the station with a great Galarraga sound bite and be disheartened to realize we probably couldn’t use it because nobody could understand what the first baseman was saying. Also, he always had a big grin on his face. Fun guy.

And then there was third baseman Charlie Hayes. The Mississippi native had a good year of solid defense, along with 25 homers, 98 RBI’s and 45 doubles. Back then, players could still smoke in the clubhouse. Dudes like me invading the Rockies’ space in the bowels of Mile High Stadium would usually find Hayes with a cigarette between his lips, flip-flops on his feet and disdain in his spirit. The conversations would often go like this:

“Charlie, another tough loss. Can we get a quick word?” A man who enjoyed a long and prosperous major-league career would stare blankly back and mutter. “No. Go away.”

I’ve had former wives, employers and teams tell me to “go away.” I’m used to it. I would offer back, “Cool. Maybe tomorrow?”

Those four guys were always dependable! They understood that we - the media - had a job to do and at least were available to help.

Spring training is in full flight. It made me think of baseball. It made me grateful for folks like Dante, Joe, Cat and Charlie. Dependable human beings.

Be one this week!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pep Talk: "Pain Into Purpose"

“She would have been 16-years-old on March 3.” The former collegiate soccer standout’s reflection on a daughter who died far too young of a brain tumor shortened my breath.

It also inspired a mom to turn her pain into purpose. The Gabby Krause Foundation was born.

It’s uplifting, at least for me, to hear stories of others who, despite great tragedy, somehow, someway, figure out that learning from, not becoming a victim of the experiences of life is a productive path. Doesn’t make life easy by any stretch of the imagination, just tries to make it productive.

Tammy Krause shared more about her daughter. “She had a favorite shirt that she wore as she endured chemotherapy treatments. It was a picture of a rabbit and these words, ‘No Hare.’” Bada-bing!

In this space we talk often about the cruelties of life. A child dying of brain cancer at the tender age of six qualifies very high on the list of “What the heck is going on around here?” moments. I can’t imagine the grief.

Life will throw us some wacky curveballs. We know that. The big question becomes, “How will we react?” For a woman who lost the second youngest of four beautiful kids, despite the pain and grief, purpose was discovered. Ten years later a non-profit continues to grow and provide bags of toys, games and other fun stuff for kids undergoing treatment for cancer or other lousy and debilitating illnesses.

This comes straight from the Bags of Fun website: 

Gabby loved purple, swimming, and coke-flavored Slurpees. She sang, danced and laughed her way through chemotherapy. She found the silly in everything! It is in her memory that the Gabby Krause Foundation was started, and in her spirit that the Bags of Fun program began. Gabby had the original Bag of Fun filled with toys and fun activities when she was battling her brain cancer. Her bag helped keep her busy and happy during long hospital visits. To the delight of other patients, she always shared her games and toys. 

A mom is keeping her daughter’s spirit alive through helping others. Admirable. Impressive. Challenging. The former TCU soccer player credits an athletic background for helping deal with every parent’s nightmare. “You get knocked down. You have to get up and fight again.”

But we have to have something to fight for, right? In this case, a mother has to fight for the spirit of Gabby, three other children, two stepkids and her personal sanity. I would suspect it would be real easy to be furious with God. Why? 

What’s the ol’ saying, “The true test of a person’s character is how she reacts in times of adversity?”

What about us? We all have our battles to fight. The challenges arrive in our lives from many different venues. They might be physical, emotional or financial. The million-dollar question is, “What kind of spirit will we utilize in dealing with the lemons life throws our way?”

That, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, is squarely on our shoulders. It’s our choice. Student or victim?

Either choice will involve great anguish initially. The interesting aspect to observe is how that initial anguish manifests itself down the road. Almost a decade later, Gabby Krause’s spirit is alive and well through Bags of Fun. Kudos to her mom for refusing to allow a child’s vibrant flame to be extinguished.

Life’s a roller coaster, folks. Get used to it. Kudos to all of you who continue to march forward despite the unexpected and unwanted twists and turns this journey throws our way.

It makes me think of a dear friend who has whipped breast cancer twice in the last few years. Diminutive in physical size, the devoted wife and mother of two college-aged kids is larger than life when it comes to an ability to confront the unexpected and unwanted stuff life flings our way.

What gives some folks the ability to rise above the fray and carry on? To achieve goals and overcome challenges when others remain seated in their corner of life’s boxing ring and wave the white towel of surrender?

That’s a complicated question for sure. I do think successfully transforming pain into purpose requires us to acknowledge that we’re not alone and to reach out and connect with like-minded folks. We draw strength for the arduous and rocky road ahead.

Our meeting inside a noisy coffee shop on Denver’s south side was over. I watched a mother walk into the brilliant Centennial State sunshine. I said a quick prayer of thanks for meeting her. She exited with conviction. Oozing inner strength. Pain? You bet. Purpose? Without question.

It’s a good reminder for all of us. Count on the pain. It will appear. Usually at the lousiest time. What’s unknown? Will we find purpose in it?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pep Talk: "Reap The Harvest"

On a recent visit to the Colorado State Capitol this simple dude from Missouri was expecting to get a lesson about politics. Instead it became a reminder about life.

Care for others. Reap the harvest.

The reminder came from Anthony Lambatos, owner and CEO of Footers Catering. “Long ago when my parents had a restaurant in Denver’s Capitol Hill area - I remember it and dined frequently - my father would always ask expectant women their due date. He made sure to deliver a wonderful meal to their hospital room upon arrival of the newborn.”

Talk about customer service!

But I think more importantly, it speaks to a giving heart. Caring for others. Sure, the Lambatos family was trying to build its business, but the ripple effect of never growing weary of doing good for others? It can be dramatic.

Whenever blessed to entertain an audience with a warm, humorous and encouraging Pep Talk, I cherish recalling a story reflecting the benefits of good works. There are many.

First, as the knuckleheads living at the Denver Rescue Mission know from our weekly Thursday morning chats, having that “never grow weary of doing good for others” type-attitude sure helps when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Ever experienced that sensation? You’re kinda down about something, on the verge of wallowing in self pity and then, for whatever reason, you decide to take action in doing something good for another person? Focus on others and not yourself? It has great potential to lift our downtrodden spirits.

Second, we open up great opportunities for that ol’ “Law of Circulation” to rear its beautiful head. I finally get to the story.

This was a while ago. Back during the almost two decades I was the “Buff Guy” covering CU athletics for KCNC-TV, the CBS-affiliate in Denver. The Buffs football team (I think Gary Barnett was the coach at the time) was on the road in Pasadena, California, for a tussle with the UCLA Bruins.

I don’t remember the details, but apparently I was walking around outside the Rose Bowl, just shooting the bull with Colorado fans before the game. A Buff zealot was without a ticket to the game. I had an extra media pass. I gave it to him. He watched the game from the Rose Bowl press box. I never saw him again after that brief encounter, because I watched the game from the sidelines.

Fast forward to about eight years ago. I’m in my hometown of Kansas City getting ready to speak on a Saturday morning. It’s early, about six, just after dawn. Four hours before I’m due on stage. I’m lying in a hotel bed, darling fiancee snuggled nearby, wondering what to do?

In speaking to myself, I ponder, how about a workout? Nope. No gym at the hotel. I know not to disturb the beautiful woman beside me. The business leader does not do early morning well. What to do? People watch!

I remembered a Starbucks about three blocks from our hotel. I say to self, “Go down there and ya know, see what happens.” Bring Kathy back a coffee and  a pastry, too. Be curious, not callous about the possibilities.

I looked outside. It appeared to be a typical chilly and gray wintry Midwest day. I throw on a sweatshirt and head downstairs. While strolling through the lobby, I notice the doormen - two young guys, probably students from a nearby college - looking at me kinda funny.

One sarcastically offers, “Where you going dressed like that?” I say ignorantly and proudly, “To Starbucks. You guys want a cup of coffee?” They respond, “Sure. But dude, you don’t have enough clothes on.” 

Well, I’ve told this portion of the story before. I arrogantly stepped from the warmth of the hotel into Antarctica disguised as the Country Club Plaza. The wind chill? About 35 below zero. I sprinted the three blocks to the coffee shop. Once inside, gasping for air, I was also gasping for solutions: How do I carry a tray of coffee and pastries back to the hotel?

I could not dash back without spilling coffee everywhere. There was no way I was walking back. I was stuck. But then out of the blue, a guy tapped me on the shoulder. It was Robert Thompson. The man who, many years earlier, had received a media pass outside the Rose Bowl before a football game. The CU grad and Denver native had just moved to Kansas City. He finally had a chance to say “Thank you.” He did in spades in the form of a ride back to my hotel!

What are the odds? I’m not smart enough to figure that out. All I know is that my good fortune was trigged by caring for others. Footers’ great success in the catering business, at least according to the son who took over for the father, has been built around caring for others. It takes effort. It takes sacrifice. Most worthwhile things in life do.

This week, care for others. We reap the harvest if we just don’t give up!

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