Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pep Talk: "Stronger Strands"

“Well,” cracked my razor-sharp almost-octogenarian mother in our regular Friday morning phone chat, “Better late than never.”

Touché, dear Patsy Sue. I was sharing the news of learning to box. Yep. At 56, I’m going to finally take Muhammad Ali’s advice and “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” 

I can remember meeting Ali back in 1986. It was one of the first stories I did upon arrival in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas to work at KGBT-TV as a sports guy. I’ll never forget the moment. The man had charisma. Young children, who had no idea of the boxing icon’s story, flocked around the three-time heavyweight champion. This was a time when the Louisville, Kentucky native was in the early stages of his battle with Parkinson’s. Today, the disease has robbed the once-loquacious pugilist of his ability to speak. Enough about Ali.

Anyway, Mom is delivering good-natured grief about learning to box at my age. I couldn’t care less. The reason has nothing to do with waking up one day and realizing, “I wanna learn to box.” It’s the byproduct of trying to better serve the men at Denver Rescue Mission. In working with the men for more than a year it’s become apparent, at least to me, that while good-intentioned folks pour energy into empowering these guys to grow stronger in mind and spirit, we were missing the critical third phase. We are doing nothing to help them grow stronger physically.

It’s such a critical piece to bouncing back from whatever ails us, right? I can remember exactly when that truth bore deep into my marrow. It was a long time ago. Dumped by a long-time girlfriend, realizing my athletic career was history and having no clue what the future held, I was bummed out. Life was not progressing as planned, that’s for sure. I know you all can relate. A buddy who ran for the Mizzou Tiger track team encouraged me to join him and other middle-distance runners for workouts. It was an epiphany: a good workout kicked in the endorphins and gave hope to prevail against what ails!

It’s what we’re bringing to the table for men in recovery. Victory Productions has been encouraging these guys to try a different path when it comes to mind and spirit but, until this point, was not addressing the fitness aspect.

That has changed, thanks to the wonderful folks at Phoenix Multi Sport. A gym just three blocks from the Denver Rescue Mission. This past Wednesday we had our first workout. We boxed. Thanks goodness, not one another. We wrapped hands, punched heavy bags, speed bags, hand paddles, jumped roped, threw around medicine balls and did calisthenics. We had a blast. A team of men working toward a common goal of growing stronger in body, mind, and spirit. The circle had been closed.

This is the first phase of the A Stronger Cord program Victory has created to help fight Denver’s homeless issue. It’s just a slice of the pie but the goal is to work with other key stakeholders in engaging the portion of Denver’s homeless population - like many of the guys at Denver Rescue Mission - who are not suffering from mental illness as much as mental anguish. Life has not gone according to plan. As I like to say whenever blessed to give a live Pep Talk presentation about overcoming adversity, “They’ve been poked in the eye.” Their self-esteem is low. So too is their hope.

Phase One works on hope. Phase Two of ASC works on rebuilding their networks. Quite often, these guys have been booted from their homes by loved ones who have finally reached their limits. These guys are in exile. Through the Associate Program, we help them rebuild that network by exercising and connecting with men of integrity who desire to serve. One of the main objectives in this phase is to help participants become more aware of their gifts and how to utilize them in unique and excellent ways.

Finally, Phase Three takes advantage of the growth seen through successful completion of the first two phases and seeks employment opportunities for participants. The ultimate goal is to re-integrate these men into their families, the workforce and our communities, transformed and eager to assume leadership of their lives. Men stronger in mind, body and spirit. 

King Solomon is considered one of the wisest dudes to ever walk the Earth. He once wrote, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

Three stronger strands. Mind. Body. Spirit. Whether we’re talking this program or our own personal lives, rarely a bad thing. Strengthen the strands whenever you can. This way, when the storms of life batter our world - they do - we will not easily be broken!

We are looking for fitness-minded men to join this effort. Is that you? Someone you know? If so, let me know!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pep Talk: "Indiana Jones Always Tried!"

“Even the great Indiana Jones has his flaws!” bellowed a simple dude from Missouri.

I was talking with the guys at the Denver Rescue Mission during our regular Thursday morning team meeting. “Does everybody have their JOCK straps on?” cracked one of the guys who has been in the program for a bit and familiar with my style of encouragement.

Victory Productions offers JOCK wristbands to those who desire. The letters stand for J-oyful for blessings; O-ptimistic about the future; C-ourageous despite the past. If we can somehow, someway, despite the unexpected and unwanted stuff life throws our way, stay joyful, optimistic and courageous through it all? We can K-ick some butt!

That’s what the JOCK wristbands are all about. It doesn’t matter how old we are, what kind of shape we’re in, whether we’ve got an athletic bone in our bodies or not, there’s the potential for a JOCK inside of each and everyone of us. I’ll get off the soapbox and back to the story.

So the dudes trying to whip addiction and I are talking about how even the great Indiana Jones has his flaws. We do too. How do I know Indiana Jones has flaws?

I was an eyewitness.

It happened several years ago. The location: Malibu, California. An amazing young man who I’m proud to call son, Kyle, is a middle-school thespian. I’m visiting that beautiful spot on Earth for his school’s production of “Bugsy Malone.” Now working for NBC on the writing team for Late Night With Seth Myers, Kyle had the lead male role in the play.

Proud Pappa had just pulled into the school parking lot - a booming drive would land a golf ball in the Pacific Ocean from it - and was rummaging around in the rental car trunk looking for a camera to chronicle the event.

So while this knucklehead’s noggin is stuffed in the trunk and his hands rummaging in a suitcase, a very cool-looking car pulls into the adjacent parking spot. Luckily on my right, since I’m deaf in my left ear. I could hear clearly.

The car was a luxurious black Jaguar. Tinted windows. Awesome looking wheels. Impossible not to notice, despite most of my focus being on finding the damn camera.

The passengers are departing the classy vehicle. I can’t see them yet but can hear them talking. One voice sounds real familiar. A man’s voice. He had been driving. I’m still rummaging in trunk but by now, the man with the distinct and familiar voice has reached the back of his car, to my immediate right.

It’s actor Harrison Ford. Indiana Jones.

He’s with his now-wife Calista Flockhart and an older woman. I figure it was probably Harrison’s mom. Ford’s daughter is the same age as my son and was also in the play. Dad, stepmom and grandma are heading to the play, too.

I finally find the camera and trail the Ford trio, about ten feet behind, on the stroll toward the well-kept theatre that sits on the grounds of Malibu High. Suddenly, the former carpenter-turned-movie-icon stops dead in his tracks and mutters - I cleaned this up - “Shut the Front Door. I forgot the tickets!”

Sheepishly, one of the most successful actors in film history pivots on his heels and heads toward his cool-looking Jag. As Ford walks past me, I gave him a sympathetic look before offering, “Hey, Harrison.”

As I pass Flockhart and the woman I presumed to be grandma, I will never forget the look on those two ladies’ faces. While Indiana Jones, the man who always had it figured out when fighting the bad forces, retrieves the forgotten tickets, the women had a “That dude would forget his head if it wasn’t attached” kinda look. Yep.

Even Indiana Jones has flaws. He’s certainly not alone.

A short while later, just before entering the theatre to watch our kids’ show, the Chicago native caught up with his posse. We were in line. Our eyes met briefly. He kinda rolled his with a, “Hey, I’m a goof sometimes” look.

There is always room for improvement, right? The guys at the Denver Rescue Mission know that. Concerning our lives, we know it. Harrison Ford knows it. We can always become superior to our former selves. We are flawed.

But let’s not beat ourselves up too much for the flaws. Let’s strive to overcome them. The only true flaw would be not trying. This much we know: Indiana Jones always tried!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pep Talk: "Challenge. Encourage. Care.

I read it, and while not weeping, my heart aches and memories return.

The craziness on America’s border with Mexico. Thousands of children detained in the Rio Grande Valley. Bless them. Stuck in Texas border towns like Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen.

I used to live there. My almost 30 years as a journalist began with a job at KGBT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Harlingen, Texas. Weekend sportscaster and weekday reporter, as well as the play-by-play voice for Pan American University’s basketball and baseball teams. On Sunday nights this gringo from Missouri anchored the news, weather and sports. A former wife used to chide me; “You can’t deliver the ‘news’ like you do sports.” Why not?

I’ll never forget many things about living on the border for two years before moving to Denver to continue my career: the oppressive heat and humidity, the warmth of the people, the passion for high-school football and the food. Although I never took a liking to Barbacoa. Ever had it? Slow-cooked cow brains. An acquired taste.

Drug busts, human trafficking and the violence associated with each, often led our newscasts. But rarely was the story focused on unaccompanied children pouring across the border. It was adults, usually men, trying to sneak across the Rio Grande River and into the United States. In search of a better tomorrow for themselves and families left behind. In many ways, south Texas was northern Mexico. The conditions, Third World. From the latest news, it sounds like things have deteriorated.

One moment in time left a huge imprint on my soul and drives a passion to encourage youth and their parents about the importance of education. The television station each year would air “Christmas For The Needy” stories. I was assigned to share information concerning a family of eight. Mom, dad and six kids. Lived in a cardboard shack. No running water or electricity. Dilapidated is an understatement. Two king-size beds dominated the structure. One parent, three kids in each bed. Nobody in the family spoke English.

Most of the folks I worked with at KGBT-TV were bilingual. Thank goodness. The photographer working the story with me translated my questions and the family’s responses. I can vividly recall the drive back to the station. I had to turn the story for that evening’s newscast. I struggled with words. Do I take the angle of despair? Those kids had little chance of success considering the obstacles. Or do I take the angle of love? Having come from a splintered family myself, I admired their closeness. In hindsight, I realize the unity might have been powered by isolation. I’m uncertain. Writing on deadline,  I finally chose the love angle, while bringing light to the family’s plight.

I've always wondered what happened to those six kids. Today, they must be in their late 20s to early 30s. Did any of them defy the odds? Earn an education? Realize the American dream? Or, did they remain uneducated, poor and desperate for assistance?

When I absorb the news of the thousands of Central American kids being rounded up and detained, my heart aches and the memories return. These kids need help, especially those truly escaping heinous conditions surrounding gangs and human trafficking. For those who stay and avoid deportation, another issue arises: effectively assimilating them into our educational system.

I see video of these Central American children, and the six kids in that cardboard shack come flashing back. I hope and pray the desperate kids of today are surrounded by nurturing adults who will stress the importance of an education. I think of the financially strapped school districts and the costs associated with such a huge influx of children, many of whom are probably not literate in their native language, let alone English. We should care for these victims, but we must challenge them and those who provide for them. Overcoming the language barrier and a commitment to learning must be top priorities. There must be expectations.

I finished writing this Pep Talk on an airplane flying to Kansas City for my 25-year-old niece’s wedding. Sitting beside me on the flight was my 17-year-old daughter, who is preparing for her senior year in high school. The America we’re handing over to our next generation faces many perils: mounting debt, crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, growing economic inequality, immigration policy failure and soaring health care costs, to name a half dozen. There are plenty more.

It’s embarrassing. The wise words of President John F. Kennedy resonate: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what can you do for your country.” America has much work to do. We need to challenge the idle, encourage the timid and care for the frail. Whether crossing the border, street, town or living room, we need wisdom to apply each where appropriate. Challenge. Encourage. Care.

This week, let’s slow cook that terrific trio into the lives of others. Barbacoa can satisfy hunger for a day, but challenging, encouraging and caring? They can stuff a soul full of hope. We need plenty of that right now, on the border and beyond.

We can do it!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pep Talk: "A Whole Bunch of Fun"

There are just moments in life that leave us bewildered, shocked, angry and whatever else applies, wondering, “What the heck is going on around here?”

I had one of those recently while hosting an event showcasing lots of courage, cars, wonderful music and food in honor of a special young man, Austin Williams.

He died in March of last year after battling cancer for three years. The young stud had just turned 17. I have two kids older than that. I can’t imagine the pain for the parents. But, I really love this, family and friends have decided to take that pain and honor a wish. Austin, toward the end of his battle with lung cancer, took a liking to classic cars. A 1972 Chevelle in particular.

One of the most popular Chevy’s ever built the Chevelle debuted in 1965 and was consider a classic. It became Austin’s dream car. KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver - I worked there while co-hosting a show called “Colorado and Company” - had done a story on Austin receiving this cool-looking car. It was a wonderful story of a terminally ill warrior going through chemo. To pass the time he starts reading lots about classic cars. In addition, Austin’s about to turn of legal driving age and declares, “Ain’t no guarantees in life. Hey, I wanna drive a nice ride like that.”

The community says, “We like that kid’s attitude” and bingo, Austin had a special ride. It was parked front and center for the fourth DTC/Greenwood Village Chamber of Commerce “SummerFest.” It was the second year that proceeds from the fun day went to Rollin’ Dreams. That’s the non profit Austin’s family - led by mom Daelyn - at his dying request founded to help other teenage kids going through what Austin endeared before the battle went in his foe’s advantage.

I just can’t imagine losing a child. OMG.

But somehow, someway Austin’s mom, family and friends are doing a grand job of keeping his spirit alive and honored. The event featured a community coming together to honor a great kid, hear some awesome music from a stellar band, “The Boomers”, savor yummy food from restaurants, quenching - it was hot - brewskies from local purveyors and, well, just having a good time. For a good cause.

As I offered to the crowd, “This is wonderful, we’re out here having fun, never growing weary of doing good for others and nobody’s benefiting more than us. Way to go!” The classic cars were so cool, the folks generous and the mood festive. I hope Austin approves because a whole bunch of folks poured their hearts into remembering you and all the other kids who face such a lousy sentence with such valor. It’s the least we could do.

I also hope to be invited back again next year, hope the Boomers come back and play and that I sing a few songs with them. I love to sing but that’s another story for another time. The Pep Talk is this: It’s really amazing what can happen when you bring together folks who are united behind a good cause. Magic can happen.

I always think of the 1989 Colorado Buffaloes or 1974 season Ray-South Cardinals football teams when talking about the power of a collective spirit. Powered by a united front each team went through the regular season unbeaten before losing in disappointing fashion and dashing their title hopes. I witnessed each. The former as a sportscaster and latter as player.

There’s that kind of spirit around Rollin’ Dreams partnership with the DTC/Greenwood Village Chamber’s annual event. It was born from tragedy. What warms my marrow is to observe how Austin’s family, friends and supporters are rallying in his honor.

Maybe the message is this. We all know someone - I think of my old man - that, perhaps, for the next week we can keep that person’s great spirit alive. Yep. With my thoughts, words and actions I’m gonna honor ----- ? Fill in the blank.

It might be Austin. Marvin. Charles. Lyndi. Ann or anybody. Let’s try like heck to honor them since they’re no longer around. It’s the least we could do. Plus, honoring someone’s admirable legacy, if it’s anything like SummerFest 2014 benefitting Rollin’ Dreams, can be a whole bunch of fun too.

Have a good one!

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