Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pep Talk: "Not Afraid To Be Brave!"

The featured speaker walked confidently toward the podium, stepped upon a box to elevate her diminutive stature and began to share. The words flowed as the attentive crowd listened and learned. A first-grader. An LSU Tiger fan. A young lady with big dreams.

The remarks came at the Seeds of Hope gala in downtown Denver. The annual event  raises money to provide scholarships for Catholic school education. Poised and pretty, Noelle Carrington concluded with this zinger: “I’m not afraid to be brave and let my light shine.”

I wanted to jump from my chair and shout, “You go girl!”

A six-year-old’s words have been resonating inside the noggin’ of a simple dude from Missouri ever since. Especially in the wake of a nation in turmoil. The decision came down in Ferguson, Missouri. The debate is nationwide. It is marred by violence. It’s visible evidence that, as a nation, we have much work to do in achieving goals and overcoming challenges in areas concerning race, representation and responsibility. Division. To steal a sports term, describing a team in trouble, “Not on the same page.”

Where is it time for something different? Not just concerning race, representation and responsibility, but for whatever ails? Home? Work? Elsewhere?

Help me understand a few things. How does a community allow a police force to become so misrepresentative of its citizenry? Tragically, a young man’s life was terminated but what if, when the officer asked the deceased and friend to quit walking down the middle of the street, the answer was, “Sure officer.”

Would we be having a different conversation? And, what if, an 18-year-old and buddy had not put police on high alert after the irresponsible act of stealing cigars and other stuff from a nearby convenience store?

There’s plenty of room for improvement on each side of these divisive issues. There usually is whenever blame games are played. Opportunity is knocking for a powerful and productive force to “not be afraid to be brave and let its light shine.” 

Victory Productions is trying. The “A Stronger Cord” project is calling out the men of America. Let’s come together. Warm up. Work out. Hang out. Sweat. Bond. Grow. ASC challenges men to grow stronger body, mind and spirit. It encourages participants to become fitness-minded, dependable and productive dudes. ASC believes that type of spirit helps us build stronger cords with families, workforces and communities. It starts with the workout.

Things must change. Tensions must lessen. Exercise reduces tension, fosters teamwork and is a great equalizer. Men of all colors working together. It reminds me of successful sports teams. Brothers. Yoked. One Heart Beat. Over the years, this knucklehead has played, reported and coached on a few.

We need to heed Noelle’s words. A first-grader at St. Francis De Sales is the shining light. Where can we make a difference? Where are the Ferguson’s? This week, do not be afraid to be brave!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pep Talk: "Travel Advisory"

“I have been deprived of peace and have forgotten what prosperity is.”

It was a cool November evening along Colorado’s Front Range when those words were muttered. They came from a reserved young man - early 20‘s - living at The Crossing, a facility run by the Denver Rescue Mission. Heartfelt words. Delivered to an aging ol’ jock, in a dimly-lit area near where, in a few minutes, a bunch of knuckleheads, from all walks of life, would workout together. A Stronger Cord. It starts the workout. Sweating, bonding and challenging one another to grow stronger body, mind and spirt.

A tender soul was sharing from deep within. I was blessed to be witnessing it. Can you imagine, being deprived of peace and to have forgotten what prosperity is? Sure you can. Stuff. It happens. Rocks our world. The depravation of peace might arrive via illness, divorce, poor choices or whatever else ails us. Life. A roller coaster.

Anyway, hours later, I awoke early the next morning thinking of this dude’s words and remembered, “I’ve got laundry in the dryer.”

So it’s about 2:30am on a Friday. Sleepily shuffling from bedroom to laundry area on the second floor of our home, the trek takes this simple dude from Missouri right past pictures of the kids. One of them taken long ago. It’s a family shot. A single father and his two wonderful children. The kids are now 24 and 17 respectively. This photograph has to be at least a decade old.

I walk past it all the time. But it was different this time. I looked at me. Flanked by a son and daughter. The words, “I have been deprived of peace and have forgotten was prosperity is” seemed to be etched on my face. A quick check of the facts at the time a friend and talented photographer shot the portrait: recently divorced for the second time, long-held and cherished Denver television sports position as the “Buff Guy” eliminated. Self esteem lower than whale dung. A terrible trio.

I’m smiling in the picture but trust me folks, inside? I was deprived of peace and was struggling to remember what prosperity is. We all have been there and, in all likelihood, will continue to have moments threatening to take us there. Isolated in misery. Solitary confinement of the mind. It sucks.

What to do about it? We can’t buy into the lie that we’re alone in suffering. There’s many folks experiencing similar crap. Go find them. Engage. Rally around each other. Encourage. Give hope and confidence to one another. Set sail on a new journey.

Travel advisory: Don’t make the trek solo. These days it seems many disdain group travel. Not for this voyage. Be ready, willing and able to hunker down in a cabin with others. It might be bumpy. Deck chairs may fly. But once the storms pass, the sun will come out. Rough seas shall calm. Peace and prosperity can return!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pep Talk: "Mike's Cap"

“Hey dude. Is it okay if I keep my Royals’ cap on?”

The question came from a guy I have always admired. The successful lawyer happens to be my older brother. The dude has always had my back. For that I will be forever grateful.

One of my greatest honors in high school was being asked by the then pre-law student at Central Missouri State in Warrensberg, Missouri, to make the 45-mile drive from our hometown of Raytown to the CMSU campus. Older bro and buddies needed a quarterback for their intramural football team. Four years younger, a southpaw from Ray-South was more than eager to oblige. Along with buddy “Stump” we’d hit the road for some football and fun. You kidding me? A chance to fling the football around and then hang with the college guys and gals. Once, the brakes went out on our beat-up truck we drove to the games. Other that, memories exude - they are good.

Anyway, older brother, devoted wife Jana and their three boys made the trek from Kansas City to Denver for our recent wedding. This wonderful event happened to correspond with the Kansas City Royals’ first post-season and World Series’ appearance in almost 30 years. Long-suffering fans jubilant. The once-proud franchise, with many great players including Hall of Famer George Brett, had fallen on hard-times for a long time. I grew up a Royals’ fan.

It was a time to celebrate. I could understand why brother wanted to keep his cap on during family wedding photos. Without hesitation, darling wife Kathy and I responded, “Heck ya!” It’s one of the many reasons I love the darling Chicago-born bride so dearly. We make a good team on that kind of stuff. I’m blessed.

So recently the wedding photos came back and we’ve been looking at them. So many cool pictures. Shameless plugs here for wedding planner Rami Carter and photographer  Casey Wigotow. If you’re looking for either for nuptials, they’re talented and fun to work with. One of the most anticipated “wanting to see” pictures was of Michael Chester McIntosh. In a shot of groom and siblings. My mentor of many things, grinning like a Cheshire cat with the beautifully-inscriptive “KC” cap atop cranium. The four of us: younger brother Matt, sister Sue, the knucklehead sharing this tale and the Royals’ biggest fan. Cool shot. Might make a nice Christmas gift to the clan.

Mike’s cap makes it even cooler. “Be Royal!” was the battle cry coming from the Midwest this summer as the Royals caught fire and swept into the World Series. As a long-time sports dude here in the Mile High City, it was eerily similar of the 2007 Colorado Rockies improbable run to the Fall Classic, The teams couldn’t lose. They just had a spirit about them. Losing was not an option. Amazing to watch.

Royalmania was feverish. Infected many. Everybody had jumped on the band wagon. The mood of the city lifted by a baseball team. A small-market team showing the big boys it can be done. The players, coaches and fans, united as one. You see that happen all the time in sports. At all levels. A team united and achieving success. Many get swept up in its euphoric tide.

Communities rally around their prep, college and professional sports. Folks get caught up in the hoopla of dreams being realized. You hear all this talk about teamwork being the key to success. Sacrifice. Hard Work. Overcoming Adversity. You hear the same message from most successful endeavors, right? That victory, in whatever pursued, will take a commitment to something bigger than us. As a television and radio sports guy, it was my job to cover those types of teams over the years. Trust me folks, few players, coaches, general managers, owners or athletic directors talk about anything but team when surviving long into the championship chase. 

For those fortunate enough to have experienced such a buzz, sports or elsewhere, wise folks realize it’s a united effort. One of those “together everyone achieves more” moments that, eternally, burrow into marrow. Experiences proving, dreams can become reality.

Just a simple dude from Missouri’s opinion, but, the key is we have to realize the importance of life being about something bigger than us. It’s true for the Royals. It’s true for the McIntosh family. It’s true for you. Your family. Any team, business, non profit, church or whatever. The venue changes but the strategy is the same. We gotta work as a team, learn from our experiences, understand it will not go according to plan, adjust and fight to the finish. Simple. Not easy.

It certainly worked for the Royals who took San Francisco to seven games before losing the 2014 World Series to the Giants’ and superlative pitcher Madison Bumgarner. It will work for everybody involved with Victory’s A Stronger Cord project. It will work for anything we’re involved in - home, work and elsewhere.

It takes sacrifice of self for something bigger than us. A team. A cause. A family. A school. A - fill in the blank.

I love our wedding pictures. One of the most cherished will be the shot of yours truly with siblings. Mike’s cap. Blue and white. Forever a reminder of that age-old truth, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

It ain’t about us. It’s about something bigger.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pep Talk: "What A Competitor!"

Seeing her tears triggered my own.

The Denver East High Angel volleyball team had just lost. But this was no ordinary defeat. It was a heartbreaking end to a wonderful season. The final season and game for a senior setter who happens to be the daughter of the knucklehead writing this Pep Talk.

As is customary, the teams lined up, shook hands and acknowledged one another in the spirit of respect for the game and competition. I could see daughter Rachel wiping away tears between shaking hands. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but parenthood often ain’t easy. It’s tough to see your kids hurting.

Under their terrific coach Tarah Sponenberg, the Angels had big dreams. Before the campaign began, their feisty mentor declared in front of the team and parents, “This will be the greatest season in East volleyball history!”

I admire folks who have the guts to take a stand. Sponenberg stuck her neck out. The team, parents and student body bought into it. Never in school history had the Angels advanced beyond regionals and qualified for Colorado’s state tourney. Their opportunity to advance started well against Pine Creek from Colorado Springs, but ended in sadness and disappointment. The favored Eagles, playing on their home floor, senior-laden and talented, rallied to advance and terminate East’s season and dreams.

So an aging ol’ man was in the stands crying, too. Watching intently as my flesh and blood and her teammates displayed sportswomanship in congratulating their opponents. My mind began racing through all the years of hard work, discipline and sacrifice this blue-eyed beauty had devoted to mastering her craft - one damn fine setter. Now it was over.

I will terribly miss watching Rachel Nicole McIntosh compete in volleyball. It began long ago, in elementary school, when just getting the ball over the net with an underhand serve was considered a real milestone. The memories roll on to the college-bound young lady – who just learned of acceptance to both Oregon and Oregon State universities - participating in club volleyball. The long hours of practice, long drives to games all along Colorado’s Front Range and beyond. In a quiet manner, always going about her business. Rarely complaining, at least not to her old man.

Always competing. Dependable. Talented. Willing to pay the price. Willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. In watching a daughter play competitive volleyball all these years those wonderful skills permeated from her performance. I can only hope and pray, as she prepares for college and the next chapter of life, she never forgets those valuable traits lie within and can be transferred from success in athletics to success in whatever she chooses as her next passion.

Team sports are such a wonderful laboratory for life. We learn the importance of working well with others; realize there will be setbacks that must be overcome; marinate in the truth of “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Triumphs. Tragedies. The moments that make us shout “Wow!” and the moments leaving us with a gut wrenching, “Oww!.”

Competitive volleyball is over, but the game of life rolls on. Down the road, whether it’s struggles with college studies, a relationship issue or whatever challenges will surely appear on the horizon, may one of the greatest setters in East High history never forget the intangibles submerged in her marrow to deal with the unexpected and unwanted.

The venues change, but the strategies are the same. We gotta compete. We gotta keep showing up. We gotta keep pushing forward. We’re gonna get kicked around a bit, but have to rise to fight again. We must learn from, not become a victim of, experiences on our journey. With that type of attitude, we will win more than we lose. We gotta believe, “And so it is!”

Those truths are emphasized in team sports and manifested in the spirit in which we play the games wherever we roam - in athletics, business, at home or elsewhere.

All those crazy thoughts were flashing through my brain as I watched an incredible human being emotionally suffer on the floor below. My vision was completely blurred because of the flow of teardrops. I tried to shift thoughts toward the future and collegiate opportunities that include an academic scholarship in the land of the Ducks. So much good stuff on the horizon.

I kept watching and the cranium just kept coming back to, “What a great competitor is this beautiful young woman!” The volleyball career is over. It was not always easy. It was not always fun. It did reveal what lies inside her soul: A competitor who is not afraid of hard work and sacrifice. A competitor willing to risk failure in the pursuit of success.

We can all learn from her example. I hope she never forgets it. A devotion to hard work, sacrifice and risk taking. It’s a winning formula wherever she shall roam. Us, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pep Talk: "Provoke Good Works!"

One of my favorite pals, an ol’ college buddy named Chester, once muttered something that permeated deep within the marrow. It’s been a philosophy that has driven quite a successful life as a businessman, husband, father and friend. Here it is:

“Hang out with the Positrons, avoid the Negatoids and recruit the Tweeners!”

That powerful truth was bouncing around in my brain recently as I sat in the audience and listened to a man share his testimony with New Life Program candidates at the Denver Rescue Mission. Each Thursday, I lead the chapel services there. But this day, this simple dude from Missouri was listening and learning, not speaking and encouraging.

The man being real with the dudes is an employee of Phoenix MultiSport. A cherished partner in providing transformational services, through Victory’s “A Stronger Cord” project, to sub-populations of men suffering substance abuse, criminal record and military fatigue experiences. We have too many of them in America today. Isolated. Struggling.

As a country, we’ve reached a crossroads. We have a choice to make. We have to decide to reach down and try to lift them up or allow their challenges to drag us down. All involved with ASC are proclaiming, “Let’s try like heck to lift ‘em up!”

Anyway, this great guy, originally from the Boston area, was sharing about struggles with addiction. They started early, with drinking beer and smoking pot at 11 years of age. About 30 men were present in the room. All could relate. Through more than a decade of abuse, the downward spiral ended with incarceration for drug trafficking offenses. But time in the Grey Bar Motel brought an unexpected blessing. Because of a leg injury, the skilled craftsman was forced to attend physical therapy, which led to working out, which led to a devotion to fitness, which led to associating with a different group of folks, which led to Phoenix, a sober active community with a special spirit and commitment to fitness being a critical piece of recovery.

Which leads to the question for all of us. Who are we hanging out with? Are they raising us up? Or dragging us down? We can flip the questions around too. Who are we raising up? Dragging down? I think it was the legendary Earl Nightingale who once bellowed, “We become what we think about.” We also, usually, adopt behaviors and attitudes of those we associate with and vice versa.

Another cherished friend has a family situation that is a good illustration. An aging parent and a grown child have struggled for years to establish a peaceful co-existence. It has been a roller coaster ride. Most families - “We put the fun in dysfunction” - have such a tale to tell, right? From what is described, each party has suffered considerable emotional damage. Why do we cling to relationships, behaviors and beliefs we know are counterproductive? We’re human.

As I sat in admiration while listening to a man describe his past and the lessons learned from it, my eyes wandered around the room. Was the message permeating?

The struggles in life come in many forms. They might be physical, emotional or financial. Where they originate is unexpected. This much we know. Those “What the heck is going on around here?” moments will appear. We’re gonna get knocked down, kicked in the teeth, call if whatever you want. The journey rarely goes as WE plan. Anybody who tries to convince you otherwise is lying. Victim or student of life? Our choice.

The ability to effectively deal with life’s lemons is greatly enhanced if we have a solid support base. It gets us back to the question, “Who are we hanging out with?”

Life a struggle right now? Illness? Addiction? Relationship breakdown? Employment woes? Perhaps the smartest thing we can do is to understand a few realities: we have a choice about attitude, we’re not alone in suffering and the best darn thing we can do is seek, with a vengeance, like-minded folks. Rally with them. Become a team. My mind wanders to long ago, college undergrad days. Bummed about the loss of athletic dreams and a relationship breakup, I filled the void with lots of booze and bad decisions. Dark times. Working out with buddies on the Mizzou track team - thanks Chris Tremblay - helped lift my spirits! Encourage one another. Give hope and confidence to one another to prevail against what ails.

Who are we hanging out with? Go find the Positrons, be a Positron. If you’re really gutsy, or maybe crazy, dive into the Negatoid pool and spread some goodwill. Who knows, it might be infectious. As a buddy at Platoon said profoundly the other day, “Go provoke someone to good works.”

Amen buddy. Let’s charge from the foxhole united and do it this week!

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