Monday, May 26, 2014

Pep Talk: "Burnout Versus Ablaze"

“It’s a different world today.”

Amen to that buddy. The short, but profound, statement came from the lips of buddy Joe Mierzwa. Devoted readers of these weekly Pep Talks should know he’s the editor. After I transfer some thoughts from cranium to computer, it’s sent along to the University of Kansas graduate for a review. He challenges me to become a better writer. Joe, thanks.

Anyway, back to the story. The frequent caller to the sports talk show I used to host on Mile High Sports Radio in Denver, was, in muttering, “It’s a different world” talking about girls volleyball.

We were having lunch at The Shack restaurant in Littleton. I love the place. Jack, Ron and crew used to sponsor the radio show. We did plenty of remotes from there. Great spot for food, fun and sports watching. I joked with Ron, “The one thing I miss about retiring from sports talk is not saying, ‘At the Shack, just ask Jack or Ron and your game is on!’” Without missing a beat, the head chef who makes some savory green chili tater tots joked, “If that was the only thing you enjoyed, IT WAS TIME to get out!”

So over lunch we were talking high school/club girls volleyball. My daughter’s, a setter, has been playing for years. It’s a fine-tuned machine. So many girls play high school and club. It’s a year-round sport. Which is good and bad. It does keep the developing girls busy with healthy and productive activity but man, it’s time-consuming and expensive.

One of the long-time waitresses at the cozy spot at Broadway and Mineral that is now celebrating 21 years of serving south Denver, also has a daughter heavily involved in volleyball. When visiting, we always talk about our daughter’s sport.

I’ve watched a lot of volleyball over the years. It’s a great sport. Teamwork so vital. What has surprised me is, it seems, there are many outstanding players who could easily go on to the collegiate level and compete, but they don’t want to.

They’re burned out.

Too much volleyball. There was a young lady who played setter for one of the state’s best teams. Outstanding player. Done. Same for another stellar player from another school. In defense of each, playing big-time collegiate volleyball has become, for the most part, reserved for very tall and athletic young women. One insider shrugged her shoulders one time and told me, “Mark, it’s all about the hitters these days.”


It might be all about the hitters but I think it’s also about the burnout. Times have changed to get back to Joe’s thoughts. In my day, athletes were encouraged to play multiple sports. For me, it was always football, basketball and baseball. There was little “specialization” like we see today.

I don’t think we’re doing the kids any service by encouraging such a narrow path at such a young age. Trust me, the college recruiters can recognize talent and understand if the athlete focused entirely on one sport later on, things will work out.

Why the rush at such at young age? Also, at such a cost? 

It is a different world. The question becomes, is it better? Kids focused on one sport and exposed to it in such a heavy dose are burned out early. That ain’t good. I admire what Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado has going on right now. The coaches there work together and encourage their athletes to play multiple sports. Yay!

Overabundance. Excessive exposure. It can bear fruit. It can bear frustration. It can be sweet. It can be sour. It’s true whether we’re talking about girls’ volleyball, other sports, business, families and other venues not mentioned. 

Finding balance. Rhythm. Mojo. In the flow. Home. Work. Elsewhere.

Easy to discuss, far more difficult to execute successfully, right?

Burnout versus ablaze. Try like heck to avoid the former and embrace the latter a whole lot this week. Who knows, maybe it will unleash a different world for you, me and others.

Good luck!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pep Talk: "Any or All"

I grabbed one can, then another, before pronouncing to the woman observing, “This is my dynamic duo.” She chuckled, “Everybody’s got their thing.”

This conversation was going down in aisle four, the vitamin section of the local Whole Foods. I was replenishing supplies of Flaxseed and Brown Rice Protein. The supplements are two of seven ingredients to my usual morning meal. Here they are: Ice, carrots, blackberries, flaxseed, almonds, brown rice protein and a banana. Gently blended, still chunky and devoured usually as breakfast, but sometimes as lunch or dinner. I try like heck to snarf it down daily. A routine, for sure.

Anyway, the female employee was amused. Apparently, I’m not the only knucklehead who wanders into her airspace blabbering about their magical concoctions. “Yours seems to make decent sense.” Thanks. I’ve been called a lot of things in life, but smart is rarely one of them. I’m gonna take “makes decent sense” as a compliment.

As I wandered into the parking lot looking for my car, the ol’ cranium floated to the following: Routines. We all have them, don’t we? I like to joke that if anybody wanted to wipe me out, it would not be a difficult task. I’m a creature of habit, especially in the morning hours. Routines.

I was two rows off in my vehicle search, but finally located it. While settling into the driver’s seat to exit the parking lot, routine was embedded in brain.

I thought of my mom. I wrote about her extensively in last week’s Pep Talk. We have a routine of speaking on Friday mornings while I’m driving to my weekly Platoon meeting. Talk about a bunch of knuckleheads, holy cow. A bunch of jacked up dudes. I cherish the time we spend together and the guys always asking, “What’s up with Patsy Sue?”

On the way home I call her back, inform her of the Bible verse(s) we studied. She then reads them back to me. Almost an octogenarian, but still a damn good reader of prose.

Then I thought of my dad, Marvin Walter McIntosh. This year has been interesting, with Mother’s Day on May 11th. That’s also my younger brothers’ birthday. But May 12th is the day my old man passed away back in 2007.

There are three days, back to back, in May that hold great significance in this simple dude from Missouri’s life: May 10th, birthday to both my darling fiancee and my second former wife; May 11th, the before-mentioned brother’s birthday, and then May 12th, the day dad drew his last breath.

Ratta tat tat.

Routines. Before his death, for many years, father and son usually talked every Sunday night. Known as “Hacker Mac” for his golf prowess, dad was such an upbeat guy. The successful businessman grew up desperately poor and dealt with family tragedy, including a father who abandoned six kids and a mother who died at an early age. Dad was the oldest boy and had to grow up fast. It was not easy for him or my aunts and uncles. Only one remains of that great group of folks: Aunts Jackie and Mary Ann, uncles John, Russell and father Marvin have passed. Uncle Al, the baby of the group, is still going strong.

Routine. I miss those phone calls with dad and cherish the one’s with mom.

The short drive home was almost complete. My thoughts about my old man were not.

At a time in life when there seem to be more questions than answers, as I backed the car into the garage, this question bored deep into my soul: “What did Marv Dog teach me the most?”

My mind started clicking through the photographs of life: Dad as a youth baseball, basketball and football coach; Dad as a tough disciplinarian; Dad as a supportive father as I dealt with life-changing stuff; Dad as a joy to be around, especially when playing golf.

I opened the back door and turned off the alarm system. It was at that moment the light bulb within my ‘noggin lit up: Show up on time, work hard, life ain’t fair sometimes but keep a good attitude about things. Dad taught me all that. He taught others that, too. Also, don’t be afraid to laugh and have some fun. My old man had a cackle. Miss that, too.

I never dreamed a trip to the grocery store would trigger such a wonderful trip down memory lane to what’s really important in life when it comes to routines, people and priorities.

Show up on time. Work hard. Don’t let life’s disappoints defeat us. Demonstrate a good attitude. Oh, and what the heck, give the seven-ingredient shake a chance as a daily meal. Give it a shot. Who knows, it might work. Any or all of them.

Have a good week!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pep Talk: "Stay You"

Still sharp as a tack at almost 80 years of age. That’s my mom.

Feisty would be a good word to describe Patsy Sue Perry. According to, the word means a few things: Spirited, ill-tempered and pugnacious. The mom of four, like most of us, can be all three, collectively, and individually at various times.

Independent would be another accurate word to describe a woman who has had her fair share of misfortune. I can’t imagine growing up not feeling valued. She did. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and neither seemed to have much time for the love, nurturing and attention children need and deserve. Unfortunate.

Motherhood came early for a young girl growing up in Saint Joseph, Missouri. She was still a teenager when my older brother came along. Shortly thereafter, my older sister arrived, and then yours truly. Bringing me into the world apparently was not an easy task. Doctors ordered her to remain in bed for the latter stages of my genesis.

Not an easy task with two other children under the age of four running around the house. One more child, my younger brother, came along five years after me to complete the foursome of kids who today proclaim, “Happy Mother’s Day” to Patsy Sue.

The ardent follower of politics and news lives in a retirement community these days. She’s not real happy about it. It’s fresh, less than a year. Feisty and independent folks want life on their terms. Understandable, for sure.

It’s one of the great challenges facing America today. How do we effectively care for an aging population?

I saw a fascinating story on CBS’ 60 Minutes recently. A ongoing study of folks in their nineties who live at a retirement community outside Irvine, California. A lot of well-respected beliefs being challenged with compelling data: All those vitamins consumed by Americans in the belief they help us? Probably not. High blood pressure? Actually, as we age, it might help, not hinder, our well-being. Gain a little weight as we progress? Not such a bad thing. Alcohol of any kind, in moderation, seems to be good for us too.

Some well-known facts held up under this ongoing research. Exercise, socialization and the avoidance of injury are critical for America’s senior citizen’s ability to matriculate through the golden years with a decent level of enjoyment, satisfaction and well being.

It was the socialization piece that played a huge role in four kids encouraging their mother to depart a small, isolate rented home and seek new adventure in a ten-story building full of other chronologically-advanced men and women. Some need lots of care. Some, like my mom, need lots of opportunities to socialize, exercise and bloom.

Change is hard for all of us. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone on the cusp of earning the “octogenarian” status. “You want me to move, where?” But she’s making new friends at the place she calls, “The Cracker Factory.” Through the years, Patsy Sue has lost many things. Her sarcastic wit is not one of them.

Caring for aging parents. My, how time seems to fly. I can remember vividly all the years of mom driving me to youth baseball, football and basketball practices. Nobody had a cleaner or more crisply ironed uniform than a young southpaw who dreamed of playing professional sports of any kind. My mother fostered those dreams. I think she grieves most for the accidental poke in the eye that led to a crash to the floor and all kinds of head and upper-torso injuries that snuffed a promising athletic career in my senior year in high school.

Reflecting back many years later, as the father of two kids now 24 and 17, I can see how this might be a struggle for her. We always want our children to dream big, to go farther than the horizon of our respective lives.

Mother’s Day, 2014. A time of transition for Patsy Sue. As she awakens on this day in Kansas City, Kansas on the tenth floor of her high-rise community, I pray she looks to the horizon, beyond the golf course that occupies her southern and western views and sees a future of opportunity and adventure.

Her mind is still razor sharp. So too, at times, her fury about the injustices, real and perceived, that accumulate after almost eight decades on this roller coaster called life. Her body, a tad rickety. Her spirit? Like the weather, susceptible to change at any time.

She gave me life 56 years ago. We share many traits, including a love for healthy debate. I still chuckle in remembrance of the days she would call the Denver radio sports talk show I used to co-host with my buddy Eric Goodman. Mom would vigorously challenge the Chicago native’s point of view. He shouldn’t feel bad; mom challenges a lot of points of view.

One thing is indisputable. “Born the same day (June 28) as John Elway!” she loves to proclaim. It’s the truth. The Hall of Fame quarterback and Patsy Sue share the same birthday. “It’s what makes me the athlete that I was!” mom reminded me, when I referenced her connection to the Broncos’ icon, on a recent phone call. Mom was offering thanks for the flowers sent her way for the big day.

She had just returned from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Her voice exuded peace and contentment. “Meetings are my life line,” she offered. “They give me hope.”

Ma, happy Mother’s Day. Stay feisty. Stay active. Stay sober. Make the meetings. Stay you.

To all the moms out there, happy Mother’s Day to you too!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pep Talk: "My Name Is Stekos!"

“We love this school and moved into the neighborhood just so our kids could attend it.”

These words flowing from a woman’s mouth and being received into my heart speak volumes about the power of a community coming together and taking a stand. In this case, to stand in the gap.

A long time ago, a Denver parochial school lost a third-grade teacher. His name was Mr. Frank. The fathers at the school were especially thrilled with the man’s excellent teaching skills. The young teacher, at the time, was the only male educator at the school’s elementary level.

I was one of those fathers. It was a relief that our sons had a dude around in case a young boy had a dude issue that needed to be addressed.

Sadly, after just two years at the school, Mr. Frank departed. It was not an easy decision for the man. I can still vividly recall, with tears streaming down his cheeks, a painful confession: “Mark, I love it here but I’m making $19,000 a year and have a chance to teach in the public-school system and make $30,000.”

Mr. Frank was gone, but the moment was not forgotten. It started a surge of parents willing to stand in the gap. The Good Shepherd Foundation was born. Since its inception, the mission has been “Caring For Our Kids’ Mentors.” The effort has been quite successful and has played a significant role in the school’s continued success today.

It all started with an issue. Attracting and retaining quality teachers. The foundation’s role in assisting the school and parish leadership in creating a warm, loving and nurturing environment for children, teachers and families to thrive speaks to the power of a group of people rallying behind a common goal.

Dressed as Miami Vice’s Don Johnson (There was an ’80s theme to the party where I was talking to this woman) it was my job as host to encourage the large throng to have fun and spend money. Occasionally, in the brief respites, I kept thinking of another moment in time.

It was several years ago and I was blessed to have been asked to present a Pep Talk to the Mountain Vista High School football team, its coaches and parents. Located in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, I’ll never forget walking into the school’s cafeteria and into a sea of black. Everyone, players, coaches and parents were wearing black shirts that across the front shouted, “Stekos.” Across the back, in bold white letters was: “Stand in the Gap.”

The head football coach explained the meaning. Long ago, when folks lived in walled communities to protect themselves from the enemy, there was a special group of forces - think Navy Seals - whose job was to protect the community when attackers tried to punch holes in the fortress to gain entrance. These were the Stekos warriors. When there was an issue, it was their job to stand in the gap.

Where is life calling us to “stand in the gap?” I think of the Denver Rescue Mission and our quest to encourage the men living there to embrace the value of physical exercise in their challenging task of bouncing back from addiction to alcohol and drugs. We’re trying to stand in the gap.

What about you? Where is opportunity knocking for your time, talents and treasures to be utilized in healthy and productive fashion to help a school, non-profit, neighborhood, business, or community cause?

We usually do not have to look very far to find a cause that could use some Stekos warriors. Are we willing to stand in the gap? It’s tough. We’re all busy with the demands life brings our way. Families, jobs and other responsibilities. Try anyway.

The spirit born from a group of people uniting for a common cause can be transformational. What’s the ol’ saying? “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

Let’s be that type of person this week. Maybe it’s volunteering at a retirement facility where so many residents rarely get visitors. Go say hi. Who knows where the need is located? What is needed is a warrior mentality and us.

Let’s stand in the gap. Let’s never grow weary of doing good for others. What the heck, when introducing yourself this week, have some fun with it and proudly proclaim, “My name is Stekos!”

Have a good one!

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