Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pep Talk: "Way To Go, Amy and Joe!"

“Good morning, God, or good God, it’s morning,” were the words eloquently uttered to me a while back by a treasured friend, Joe Sabah. One of the founding fathers of the National Speakers Association, he’s still going strong as an octogenarian despite suffering a stroke about a decade ago.

He walks with the aid of a cane and types only with his right hand, but nothing slows down this dynamo. Maladies may strike his body but nothing except enthusiasm for life emanates from him. Thus, the mentor to many a speaker chooses, “Good morning, God.”

His words come back to me after sending a text to another friend whose wife has suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury: “Best of luck on the next phase of this unexpected journey. Prayers for you all!”

Less than a minute later, I got a response to my text, a simple, “Thank you.”

The correspondence was with former Denver Broncos’ punter Tom Rouen about his wife, Amy Van Dyken-Rouen. The six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer recently had an ATV accident while coming home from dinner. She was thrown from the vehicle and suffered a complete severing of the spinal cord in the lower back area. She has complete use of her arms, and is rehabilitating at Denver’s Craig Hospital in hopes of defying the odds and regaining use of her legs.

Van Dyken-Rouen also has an incredible spirit. It played a huge role in her athletic success. Competitive. Feisty. Spit in the lanes of competitors back in her swimming days. Energy in a room changes when the former Colorado State swimmer star appears. If anybody can defy the odds, it’s Amy.

Life’s unexpected twists and turns. An accident. Stroke. Illness. Divorce. Layoff. Firing. Those “What the hell is going on around here?” moments we struggle to understand.

My mind wanders to a moment long ago, involving Rouen. It was before his professional career, when he was an All-American punter for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

The scene was the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 1st, 1991. The Buffs were playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the second straight year. With a victory, the Bill McCartney-coached team could once again win the national championship. Lou Holtz and the Irish had defeated CU the year before.

Back then I was a young television sportscaster for KCNC-TV in Denver. It was my job to cover CU athletics. I was, “The Buff Guy.” I’m standing just outside the south end zone at the once proud, but by then decrepit, stadium in south Miami as Rouen boomed a punt deep into Notre Dame territory.

At the time, the Buffs were clinging to a slim lead, and many questioned the wisdom of punting the ball to Notre Dame’s dangerous return man, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. But that’s what happened. What happened next was quite memorable.

Ismail caught Rouen’s punt deep in Notre Dame territory, made a few moves, got a few blocks and ran the darn thing all the way back for a touchdown. Or so he thought.

What the All-American didn’t realize is that around midfield an official had thrown a flag. Clipping on Notre Dame. To this day, Notre Dame fans I run into insist it was a clean block, but replays show that while close, the officials’ call was correct.

Anyway, back to the story. Ismail and two of his teammates are lying in the back of the south end zone of the Orange Bowl. I’m standing less than a foot from them. They don’t know about the flag. I leaned over, tapped Ismail’s shoulder pads and offered, “Hey guys, there’s a flag down there.”

I will never forget the looks on their faces. Shock. Disbelief. One of those “What the hell is going on around here?” moments.

Luckily for them, it was just a football game. Amy Van Dyken-Rouen and her hubby, the punter who kicked the ball to Rocket, face a game of far greater magnitude. I hope they can keep a positive attitude. I pray they can be patient and persevere. That they can, most often, awaken with Sabah’s motto, “Good morning, God” and not succumb to the temptation of “Good God, it’s morning.”

The journey rarely goes as planned. We get kicked. We get clipped. We get thrown. We struggle to understand why. We’re human, after all.

Realistically, the only thing we can truly control on this roller coaster called life is our attitude. It will play a huge role in how we handle the dips. Van Dyken-Rouen’s already looking for positives. Yep. She posted on social media sites about the great seats and parking spaces afforded the handicapped at sporting events. You go, girl.

An accident may rob Van Dyken-Rouen of the use of her legs. But like Sabah, nothing appears to have a chance of stealing her spirit. We would be wise to emulate Amy. Joe, too. Way to go, Amy and Joe!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pep Talk: "The River Estrange"

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’ we all have our issues.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

These truthful words were uttered by a homeless man, sitting on a bicycle and entertaining an intimate crowd gathered in a smelly alley in downtown Denver. “It’s  interesting that most people I run into on the streets take a wide path around me.”

In the fifteen minutes spent with the man, Ray, much was learned: former Baptist preacher from California; has fought addictions to many drugs in the past; says only an occasional drink reaches his lips these days; prowls the alleys of the Mile High City’s lower downtown taking pictures and scurries around on his bike collecting sandwiches to distribute to fellow “outsiders.” Finally, and this was the true bonding agent to his attentive audience: “I’m trying to be a bridge builder between the insiders and outsiders.”

A noble quest. A mission shared by a caring teenager who was interviewing Ray and  whose curious mind created a project, “Clicks For A Cause.” The mission? Through pictures and words, raise awareness, compassion and understanding to homelessness.

“Not everybody out here is ‘addicted’ to something. We will never eliminate homelessness. Some, like myself, choose to be on the streets.” he told us. An impressionable and maturing 17-year-old, her mother as chief photographer and a simple dude from Missouri who each Thursday leads chapel service at the Denver Rescue Mission (we were in the alley behind the facility) were soaking in every word.

After the engaging conversation was over and Ray pedaled away, I could not get out of my mind, his comment: “Whether we’re an insider or outsider we all have issues.”

Heck, whether we’re talking about our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, schools or wherever else we gather in groups, so often some feel on the “inside” and some feel on the “outside.” We’ve all felt those moments where others take a wide path around us.

I can remember having that type of feeling many times in life. Bosses at work suddenly becoming scarce and unavailable prior to learning that a job has been eliminated because of budget cuts. After head and shoulder injuries really screwed up my baseball career, a summer-league manager avoiding my calls about the pending season. A spouse emotionally distant before announcing a desire to depart a marriage and move on to new frontiers.

It sucks being an outsider and often ain’t so great on the inside either.

How do we build bridges between the two? Would “estrange” be a good word? How do we build bridges over the river “Estrange?” Let’s define it as, “To turn away in affection or feeling;  make unfriendly or hostile.”

Well, I’ve been called a lot of things in life, smart rarely one of them, but it seems a good place to start building a bridge over the river Estrange is to engage one another and do more listening than speaking.

In speaking on this subject during live Pep Talk presentations or facilitations, what has always jumped out at me is the importance of listening with an attitude of seeking creation of new thought, not compromising on old ones. Fresh ideas.

That’s what is so admirable about the soon-to-be high school senior’s passion behind “Clicks For A Cause.” She’s trying to create new thought, especially for kids her age,  about an old issue that, back to our buddy Ray, “ain’t going away.”

We could use plenty of new thought about old issues that aren’t going away. Let’s start with our state and national politics. How do we build bridges over the river Estrange to lessen the unfriendliness and hostility? One idea has been brought forth about changing how we vote. I support it. It suggests eliminating primary elections and giving us, the voters, three choices, in order of preference, for state and national offices with the winner having to earn a majority of the votes. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. You can get more information at

That’s just one example. Few would argue our political system needs to improve. There are many other challenges before us as well. At home, work, community - local, state, regional, national and international. Back to Ray, “Whether we’re on the ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ we all have our issues.”

This week, let’s take a cue from a homeless man on a bicycle, an ambitious high-school kid armed with camera and recorder or a private citizen disgruntled with the voting process. How about taking action against the ongoing threat of turning away in affection or feeling? How about being a voice of reason against hostility and unfriendliness?

Build bridges over the river Estrange. We’re not going to advance without them.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pep Talk: "What A Gift"

Fathers Day 2014. A time to reflect upon the men who share responsibility for giving us life. I had a great old man, Marvin Walter McIntosh. He passed seven years ago from lung cancer. I miss him, and his positive spirit, every day. But this Pep Talk ain’t about golfing enthusiast “Hacker Mac.” It’s about two other dads who deserve a lot of credit for influencing my life today.

The stepfathers of my two children.

I’m a fortunate guy in many respects. Healthy at 56, with a darling fiancee that I can’t wait to marry later this year, and two kids who are healthy as well. A son and daughter, maturing nicely and chasing their dreams. Despite being a knucklehead, more friends than a simple dude from Missouri deserves. Plus, more blessings I can’t even recall right now. It’s the wee hours of a cool June morning. The Mile High City is expecting another round of violent weather once the sun rises and warms the atmosphere. I’m just gathering my wits.

But there is one more blessing not to be forgotten. Actually, two. The men who have stepped up big time to mentor, provide and protect my kids. Sounds weird to write that, but it’s true. Divorce ain’t an easy path, but it’s a common one. Half of us who walk down the aisle and recite, “till death do us part” don’t make it to the finish line. Sustaining a marriage. The numbers tell the story. It’s a noble goal fraught with peril.

The words of the psychologist my first former wife and I were seeing as we tried to pick up the pieces of a fractured relationship still resonate in my ears: “If you’re going to get divorced, make it a good divorce.” I guess now would be a good time to also salute the two mothers who moved on because they felt it necessary. They chose good guys.

One has become a cherished friend. “We put the fun in dysfunction” is a phrase the gregarious California native coined long ago when others would ask us, when we were all together in celebration of my wonderful son, “Are you two brothers?” 

When circumstances of life led to a young man heading west from Colorado to the Golden State to live with his mother and this super dude, we (stepfather and I) would talk on the phone constantly. We share values. We share a competitive spirit. In our younger years, he would be a bulldog under the basket throughout intense basketball one-on-one games in the driveway of his home nestled in the hills above Malibu.

Most important, we share a deep love and concern for a young boy who has grown into a young man living in New York City these days and working on the writing team for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Myers. There has been no bigger supporter of my son’s dreams than his stepfather. I would step in front of a truck for that man. We sing love songs to one another when talking on the phone. It’s what goofy middle-aged men do. Deal with it.

“I can’t believe this is happening again” often crashed into my brain in dealing with a second divorce. What’s the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?” The man who became the focus of attention for the mother of my daughter is someone I knew already. From sportscasting days on Denver television, I endured commercials for his successful business airing right before I began the morning sportscasts on KCNC-TV. That was a tad painful. It’s challenging to be upbeat when the heart is being battered.

But over time, wounds heal. We gain a different perspective from life’s disappointments. I talk about this often on the speaking circuit when addressing effectively dealing with adversity and change. “Quite often, once the dust settles and the pain subsides, we realize change brings things into our lives worth keeping no matter what.”

A second marriage meltdown opened the door for an amazing woman to walk into my world. It also opened the door for a good guy to have major influence on my daughter’s life. Over the years admiration for the martial arts’ enthusiast has grown significantly. We could use more dads like him. It’s natural and comfortable to sit together in the stands rooting for my daughter and his stepdaughter’s volleyball success. We’re in this together.

Predictable. Successful. Caring.

Three wonderful traits we all would probably love to have others disperse from their lips, without hesitation, when asked to name three things about us. That terrific trio describes the men my former brides went on to marry once our unions failed to proceed.

They chose well. For that, and the outstanding job each man has done in responsibly fathering my kids, I’m very grateful. Lucky. The words of the wise shrink, “Make it a good divorce....” resonate again. Life is a roller coaster: What a great tip for the divorce dip.

Thanks, dads. When my kids have been in your care I have always felt you had their best interests at heart. What a gift this Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pep Talk: "Play Our Hearts Out"

“In my next life I want to come back as a Clydesdale,” joked the man standing next to me. Along with a lot of other folks, we were staring in admiration at the famous Budweiser horses. They were on regal display in downtown Nashville, Tennessee during the city’s “CMA Music Festival.”

The event’s been around for more than 40 years. Many downtown streets in Tennessee’s state capital are blocked off for the mega-show. Stages are everywhere for fans to hear tons of country music in our nation’s home to it. This from its website: “Created for the fans in 1972, CMA Music Festival brings it all together - artists, music, autographs, pictures, activities and more - all for you, the most devoted fans in the world.” They are devoted fans. I sat next to two giggly adult women on the shuttle in from the airport who were in town for the fun.

I had stumbled upon the extravaganza, which supports funding musical education in Nashville schools, quite by accident. I was in the land of the Grand Old Opry to give a Pep Talk to a staffing agency focused on “Striving For New Heights.” With some team leaders of the company, we were on our way to dinner when we came upon the temporary stables housing the majestic-looking animals.

For the record, in my next life I want to come back as a golden retriever owned by a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. We will get lots of exercise together because we share a passion for running on the beach. That’s a story for another day, but being reincarnated as a world-famous Clydesdale would be a second choice I could live with for sure.

So here I am, in this corral of country-music celebration, staring at groomers fawning over the equines when my mind wanders to some literature about the CMA Foundation’s Keep the Music Playing program and its benefits to kids. It’s pretty cool.

Again, paraphrasing from its website, the foundation recognizes music education to be vital for our youth.  The numbers cited certainly validate that statement. Metro students (Nashville has about 81,000 kids in its school district) participating in more than one year of music are 7% more likely to come to school each day; earn 15% higher grade point average; and are 52% more likely to graduate from high school on time than students who are not involved in music classes.  A fine-tuned music education program also provides students access to potential college scholarships so they can further music education and earn advanced degrees. Impressive, but not breaking news.

We’ve known for quite some time that music is a creative outlet allowing kids to express themselves, discover unknown talents and keep them engaged in school. A 2006 Gallup Poll says more than 94% of Americans believe that music is a key component to a child’s well-rounded education.

I would agree.

Our daily news is filled with stories of our nation’s education woes. No money, poor performance and a host of other problems. Sadly, too often we hear of school districts that no longer can afford - really? - to offer musical education to their students. Same thing for competitive sports and other extracurricular activities. But at what cost?

Music, sports and other stuff. Creative outlets for kids offering the potential to inspire them to take responsibility for their grades so they can continue to participate. I know it was a real driving force for me growing up. I knew that if attention was not paid to academics, the chance to wear a football, basketball or baseball uniform would be abolished. It kept my butt in line.

Country music fans from all over the world pour into Nashville for this annual event. I would suspect few know their desire to see rising talent, current superstars and living legends is providing great opportunity for others while providing them great joy.

Joy for one, and opportunity for another. That’s a dynamic duo worth replicating wherever we roam.

Where in our lives could we take something that brings us great joy and transform it into opportunity for another? Personally, while banging the question out on the computer for you to ponder, my mind immediately went to the candidates at the Denver Rescue Mission. I love serving those men each Thursday morning with encouraging words designed to help them achieve goals and overcome challenges associated with their quest to whip their addictions to alcohol and drugs.

What about you? Where could your joy, expressed as your time, talent or treasures, open a door of opportunity for another? Where could we mentor others and provide value to the communities we serve?

The 2014 CMA Festival. Many stars on many stages once again in Nashville. There are many stages this weekend in our communities, too, just waiting for us to step forward and make an appearance. 

Let’s take that step, play our hearts out, and make a difference right now. The next life, with those silly dreams of horses and dogs can wait. Those who need our help today cannot.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pep Talk: "Muddied Waters"

“What happened to the Stairmaster?”

The tone of my voice said it all to the new trainers at Kinetics Fitness Studio. The beloved gym where I try to live the “Sweat a day keeps the doctor away” philosophy.

“It’s gone to make room for some new equipment,” was the somber response. It seemed the guys were concerned this simple dude from Missouri might start weeping. Luckily, there’s still one Stairmaster machine left. All is not lost, but access has been cut in half.

Unexpected and unwanted change. It ain’t easy.

As I climbed aboard for 30 minutes with my exercise mistress and the sweat began to pour from the pores, thoughts began to wander to a time a while back when precious princess - daughter - was quite a bit younger. We were flying into Kansas City, Missouri to visit family. Upon descent into the city’s airport, when arriving from the west, air travelers fly over the Missouri River.

It’s winding path easy to detail from above. “What river is that Daddy?” the now 17-year-old asked long ago. “That’s the Missouri River, honey. Some folks call it the ‘Big Muddy.’’’

That’s how life can seem sometimes, ain’t it? A bit muddy? Things don’t go exactly as planned? Where’s my Stairmaster? What happened to my marriage? Job? Health? Friend? The list of “What the heck is going on around here?” situations is endless, but usually unique for each of us within the categories of physical, emotional and/or financial challenges.

The waters get muddied. They certainly seem that way right now with this beautiful young woman – God, she looks just like her momma - and our relationship. I can’t seem to connect with her, at least the way I’d like to connect with her. Admittedly, I find myself envious of fellow fathers who speak glowingly of close relationships with their teenage daughters. I try to remember the wise words of the guys from my Friday morning Platoon group who challenge me to “Keep loving her and don’t screw it up. She’s a teenager. Get over yourself!” I’m trying.

I guess that’s what faith is all about, right? The wise words of friend and former University of Colorado basketball coach Ricardo Patton, when talking about the issues with his basketball team, pop into my mind: “This too shall pass.”

The waters get muddied. My mind wanders to the firestorm surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs. How in the world has America gotten so far off track that we don’t effectively care for those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom? Really? It’s tragic, wrong and a subject for another day.

Back to the topic: Waters do get muddied, usually when we least expect it, can least afford it, or least deserve it. The million-dollar question becomes, “How will we react?”

The workout is nearing completion when the mind wanders to one of my heroes, professor, author and consultant William Bridges, who passed in 2013. His book The Way of Transitions is one of my all-time favorites.

In the book, the acclaimed expert on effectively dealing with change speaks in raw terms of his personal struggle. He had lost his wife of 35 years. It was devastating. But he was THE transition guru. Educated at many Ivy League schools, the man, the human, was beating himself up badly for not dealing more effectively with losing his soul mate to cancer.

The waters were muddied.

But aboard an airplane flying across America one bright sunny day, Bridges had an epiphany. With a window seat, a cloudless sky and a long flight from east to west, the one-time literature professor began to notice the great rivers that dominate America’s heartland: The Ohio, Mississippi and previously mentioned Missouri.

They meander. They take unexpected twists and turns. They replicate life. And then it hit Bridges like a ton of bricks. Metaphorically, those great rivers represent our personal journeys. Often, there’s seems to be no rhyme or reason to their paths. But in conjunction with those rivers’ twists and turns, along their banks, something pretty cool transpires.

Rich sediment is dropped, creating the fertile soil necessary to grow our nation’s food supply. Bridges wondered, could it be the same for our lives? Could the twists and turns offer opportunity for sediment to be dropped that could provide rich soil for future growth?

Who moved my cheese? What’s up with the Stairmaster? Why does my daughter recoil at my presence? Why does life - physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially - seem so damn tough sometimes?

 Workout complete, I headed into the beautiful Colorado morning sunshine with a great reminder (albeit silly considering it was triggered by the absence of an exercise machine) of one of the critical components to successful living: Despite how difficult it can be sometimes, we must face the day with hope that once the sediment drops and the waters clear, soil for future growth has been deposited into our hearts, minds and souls.

Easy to write about, far more difficult to execute. Good luck this week!

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