Monday, December 26, 2016

Pep Talk: "Finish Well"

‘Twas the day before Christmas and your knucklehead scribe was sprawled on the couch. A combination of necessary rest from a wonderful European vacation and late-season NFL football making lounging quite easy.

But the cranium was troubled. Life sometimes bring real challenges. A big one these days in America is care of its elderly. Whether at home, hospital, assisted-living facility or somewhere else. There is much debate about the quality and expense associated with elderly care. A lot of negative talk about a broken system.

A Stronger Cord is thrilled to be moving into this area after the first of the year. The three-year-old community outreach wellness movement will be teaming with Bessie’s Hope to love on isolated elderly in assisted-living facilities. Bessie’s Hope has been doing this quite well for more than 20 years, ASC can’t wait to help.

But back to why the brain was a bit scrambled. It came from a horizontal position and watching/listening to pre-game chatter before the important Christmas Eve NFL games. All the talking heads were, accurately, proclaiming, “It’s do or die time.” All the teams fighting for their playoff lives looking for winning efforts the final two weeks of the regular season.

The finish line is near. Those times in life, whether from football, caring for the elderly, work, marriage or other critical and difficult endeavors, where it’s crunch time. Moments where character is truly revealed. I can remember vividly from childhood, my parents and others, in describing times like this, encouraging me with, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I believed it then and now.

It’s that time for this ol’ jock. Sudie Puff is quite ill. In this weekly blog, I have written often about a feisty 81-year-old mother of four who is still sharp as a tack. But the ol’ body is wearing out. During recent hospitalization and now rehab, concern for her well-being has sparked, between family members, passionate conversations about her care and cost, physically, emotionally and financially. It ain’t easy.

It’s the fourth quarter of mom’s life and the question becomes, how will it finish? That’s our family story. We all have such stories, right? It might not be elderly end-of-life stuff but, usually, there’s something stressful grinding the gears. As my buddy Billy Mac from Hackensack would suggest about these seasons of life, “It’s tough sledding time.”

Just my opinion, but I don’t think there’s any definitive way to address such moments. Whether fighting for NFL  survival or another breath, each challenge will require participants to perform well. Caring for our elderly is a group effort, bigger than ourselves. It’s about team and whether these challenges bring unity or division to it, whether football or family.

Watching NFL gridiron action but thinking about mom and caring for the elderly. A big challenge for my family and our nation. This week let’s do our part to help those we dearly love finish well.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pep Talk: "Our Nation, Our Time?"

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying toward Europe for a rendezvous with darling wife, your knucklehead scribe’s brain percolated. It’s a blessing and curse.

The cranium was gurgling with truth revealed three years into a community outreach wellness movement, A Stronger Cord. ASC’s philosophy purposively engages agencies serving the isolated, vulnerable and displaced. We have too many in our world today. In missions, mansions or on Main Street. All colors, shapes and sizes. Diverse. Quite often, in serving the afflicted (aren’t we all?), it’s apparent an overactive brain and ill-advised ways to effectively deal with it, lead to destructive addictions: Drugs, booze, power, crime, sex/pornography or whatever counterproductive outlet we choose.

ASC uses exercise to calm down that overactive noggin. A devotion to fitness sure has helped this ol’ jock deal with stress over the years. However, the workout is the warmup, first step, in a three-pronged wellness program reducing anxiety, building healthy relationships and encouraging community service. As ASC devotees say, “Work out, hang out and help out. More fit, connected and giving. Healthier, mind, body and spirit.” Ah, a beautiful cord of three strands not easily broken.

Just personal opinion, but these days America’s policy toward an overactive brain seems dominated by the prescription drug faction. Big Pharma. The first thing seems to be, “Get them on medicine!” There is little conversation about “Get them in a wellness program!” We know exercise reduces stress. All science supports such a statement. For a frayed nation needing fresh ideas concerning building a stronger cord to one another, why not wellness?

As the flight continued its trans-Atlantic trek from Houston to Amsterdam, I was reading an article in the Denver Post about the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  The well-written story described the evolution of a Japanese-American family detained in one of our nation’s World War II internment camps. After the 1941 surprise attack, Japanese-descent families were ordered to surrender homes, jobs and possessions and report to prison-like facilities. One was Camp Amache, in Granada, Colorado.

The other day I heard a fabulous pastor, Denver Dream Center’s Bryan Sederwall say, “We have to embrace life’s interruptions as an invitation.” Japanese-American lives were certainly interrupted by a fearful nation after a savage assault on its western flank. But a vast majority of Japanese-Americans soldiered on. They used the interruption as an invitation. One internment youth later served in the Korean War. Now in his 80‘s, a young student asked the man, “Considering how you were treated, why did you later serve?” According to the writer, apparently, the man did not hesitate. “It was my country. It was my time.”

A hyperactive brain dump on a long flight to Europe leads to this: Folks, our nation is underachieving. There are societal warning sirens blaring. American ideals have been interrupted. It’s an invitation. When it comes to utilizing talents and experiences to serve and lessen societal stress, where might it be our nation? Our time? Look around your community. Opportunity is knocking!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pep Talk: "Blocking Regret's Rush"

A while back, “Check the tape! Check the tape! Check the tape!” was the battle cry as two men drove south from Denver to Pueblo. It was your knucklehead scribe and the late University of Colorado football star Rashaan Salaam. Two dudes on the road to visit former CU Buffs now associated with the CSU-Pueblo football team. 

Friends for more than 20 years, we had lots of windshield time to talk about life, including laughing hysterically about the infamous (I was the “Buffs Guy” for Denver’s KCNC-TV back then) 1994 “Miracle at Michigan” play. The future Heisman Trophy winner (CU’s only) played a huge role in the successful Hail Mary pass. The talented running back made a critical block giving quarterback Kordell Stewart ample time to set his feet and lean into launching a football about 65 yards into the Michigan end zone for a miraculous finish.  History remembers Stewart, the tipper Blake Anderson and the catcher Michael Westbrook, but few mention Salaam’s key contribution thwarting a Michigan pass rusher. Over time, when seeing each other, it had become a running moment to joke and cherish, “Check the tape!” 

Rashaan was unique. Gifted athletically, intellectually and socially, to name just a few. When Salaam walked into a room, the energy changed. He was magnetic and tender hearted. But like us, the former NFL first-round pick had challenges. One was regret. We all have those moments, right? When expectations of self fall short? Salaam had regret for blowing, literally, a promising, and lucrative, professional career because of a pot passion. Injuries and fumbling hurt his NFL chances, but an addiction to marijuana led to poor work habits and an early departure from the game.

We talked a lot about letting go of regret on that drive to and from Pueblo. Simple, not easy. Ever been there? Sure you have. All of us have. We also talked about future dreams. The San Diego native had returned to Colorado from California looking for a fresh start. He wanted to mentor at-risk kids and promote CU athletics. He joined A Stronger Cord’s wellness outreach program and spoke to men enrolled in the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. They loved Rashaan. Everybody did.

But Rashaan didn’t love himself, at least not consistently enough. Many tried to encourage the 21st overall selection in the 1995 NFL draft. The past few years, mirroring his running back prowess, Salaam was hard to tackle, elusive. He would engage with that fabulous personality, then withdraw and isolate. About this tragedy, my mother posted on Facebook: “The saddest words of tongue or pen, these four words: It might have been.” Self-condemnation, for Heisman winners and us mere mortals, is damaging. Sometimes fatally. 

A 42-year-old beloved but troubled dynamo kept checking the tape. For us, it’s the latest reminder. Life rarely goes as planned. Somehow, someway, in a healthy and productive way, we have to accept the past, learn from it and halt self-condemnation. Rashaan’s tragic passing is a powerful example. If we don’t block regret’s rush on our soul, it can be a terminal sack on body, mind and spirit.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pep Talk: "Al's Random Email"

In this electronics-dominated world, we possess them. Yep. Those loved ones who, usually late at night, fire off emails. To many, including us. The content usually with a humorous intent, obvious or not.

One of those friends is an incredible guy who, as a youth sports coach, devoted much time to your knucklehead scribe and other young men during our formative years. Spry and active in his 80s, “Alle B” is the nickname for a respected dude who still mentors young kids and plays a huge role in organizing a yearly golf tournament to raise money for Raytown, Missouri’s “Youth Sports Initiative.” It’s an effort to give kids in the school district more access to sports and less temptation to gangs. It’s a big problem we face in America today. We have too many kids growing up in neighborhoods with little access to music, sports and arts. Tragically, deprived of healthy and productive activities. Guess what? It opens the door for gangs to recruit the kids. Most of whom are from single-parent (mom) families. Isolated and vulnerable.

Anyway, I’ll get off the soapbox and back to the story. A recent email from Al Maddox was priceless. The subject line read: “God’s Wife.” The content was from Leo Buscaglia. The renowned author and lecturer once judged a contest looking for the most caring child. “God’s Wife” was one of the winning entries. It tickled Al’s fancy and he passed it along. Enjoy.

An eyewitness account from New York City, on a cold day in December, 
Some years ago: A little boy,
About 10-years-old, was standing before a shoe store on the
Roadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering
With cold.

A lady approached the young boy and said,
'My, but you're in such deep thought staring in that window!'

'I was asking God to give me a pair of
Shoes,' was the boy's reply.

The lady took him by the hand, went into
The store, and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks
For the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water
And a towel. He quickly brought them to her.

She took the little fellow to the back
Part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed
His little feet, and dried them with the towel.

By this time, the clerk had returned with
The socks. Placing a pair upon the boy's feet, she purchased him
A pair of shoes.

She tied up the remaining pairs of socks
And gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, 'No
Doubt, you will be more comfortable now.'

As she turned to go, the astonished kid
Caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, with tears
In his eyes, asked her: “Are you God’s wife?”

Way cool. Al’s random email (I’m lucky and blessed to have opened it) speaks to the power of never growing weary of doing good for others. Nobody reaps the harvest more than us. This week, live that truth!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pep Talk: "Better Than Turkey Day Leftovers"

Driving and feeling a sense of accomplishment for buying the first holiday gift, your knucklehead scribe’s mood shifted dramatically during a phone conversation. “My father died suddenly last week,” offered a beautiful soul in a strong voice, “I am devastated.”
The woman is a care giver. An absolutely amazing sentry of a beloved friend who, because of memory issues, needs someone to keep an eye on him.

Anyway, this spiritual warrior just lost her father and was “back on the job” for the first time as necessary mourning continues. “My dad,” suggested the kindred spirit. “It was so touching. In his final hours he would awaken, look around and see everybody present. He would smile and proclaim, ‘I am so blessed.’” Wow. That dude is my hero.

Thanksgiving 2016. What a time in our nation’s history. These days, considering America’s tumultuous state, blessed is rarely the first word folks offer. Stressed? You bet? Blessed? Not so much.

But, we do have blessings. The fact we’re conversing suggests we’re each alive and breathing. That’s a decent start. But what else can we do to “lessen the stress and bring the bless?” This is not a marketing ploy for a community outreach movement, A Stronger Cord, but America needs to figure out ways to unite. Why not with wellness?  Healthier in mind, body and spirit? We need more folks to, like a dear friend’s dying father, proclaim, “I am blessed, not stressed.”

The other day this ol’ jock was blessed to be encouraging men from the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program during an ASC Monday night. We talked about the value of wise instruction, perseverance and faith in overcoming life’s inevitable bumps in the road. We talked about unleashing suppressed gifts and talents in healthy and productive fashion. We talked about giving thanks for those gifts and talents.

Generations Church in Denver has embraced ASC’s “Work out, hang out and help out” philosophy. I enjoy attending their Sunday services. Pastor Jody Earley is a dynamo. Last weekend the East Coast-transplant implored the gathered to make sure our thankfulness is expressed, not just felt.

Perhaps that’s where we could start in building a stronger cord to another? Whether living in a mission, mansion or on Main Street, let’s focus on proclaiming what we’re thankful for, not just what we’re unhappy with? It’s well-known science that we become what we think about, right? If we decide to focus on gratefulness, not grumpiness, might things improve? How?

Here’s an idea. End the isolation. We need to rally around one another. ASC uses exercise as the hook, but use whatever, in healthy and productive fashion, works. Then, once you gather, REALLY get to know one another and then, collectively, look around and say, “Let’s go help others.”

The sudden and unexpected passing of a dear friend’s father triggered a powerful reminder to give thanks, count blessings and serve others in an effort to multiply those blessings beyond our selves.

The stress removed from our world? It’ll be better than Turkey Day leftovers!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pep Talk: "When Facing The Unimaginable"

Sometimes a trip down memory lane can be quite conflicting.

The other day your knucklehead scribe offered a ride to an A Stronger Cord stalwart. The father of two beautiful daughters needed to get to Greeley, Colorado (about 45 minutes north of Denver) for a legal meeting.

Being an old television sportscaster, as we drove into the city’s southern limits, temptation ruled. The story of FIDO was shared. It’s an example frequently offered  in consulting work with groups or individuals challenged with letting go of the past. It’s the story of a long ago Denver Broncos’ football team. It was back in the early 90’s. Despite having future Hall-of-Famer John Elway at quarterback and other talented stars, the year before, the Dan Reeves-coached team had underachieved.

Back then the Broncos held summer camp in Greeley, home to the University of Northern Colorado. It was the first day of camp the next year. The Broncos were trying to comeback from disappointment. As a sports guy for KCNC-TV, I was covering the team and stationed outside the dining hall early on the morning of the first practice. Every player, coach and staff member, who sleepily walked into the chow hall, had on the front of their t-shirts, in bold letters, this statement: F-I-D-O. It became the focus of my report that morning. Upon inquiry, it was discovered, Coach Reeves, at a team meeting the night before had issued the t-shirts, which signified, about the previous season’s disappointment, “Forget It, Drive On!”

My buddy enjoyed the story, was delivered to his appointment and then I turned right around and drove back to Denver. The return trip sparked a reflection concerning recent experiences making the “FIDO” creed quite difficult to embrace.

Like, a wonderful workout and golfing buddy and his former wife burying their 27-year-old son after the young man’s unexpected death. The vision of a “brother from another mother” grabbing a shovel and beginning the Jewish burial tradition of, once the casket is lowered into the ground, pouring dirt on the casket. Wow. It’s something I’ll never forget. How do parents “Forget it and drive on” from such grief?

Or, how does a dear friend and spiritual warrior, wife and six kids, “Forget it and drive on” as he continues to fight cancer? It has spread throughout his body and is clearly winning right now. This stud of a man still shows up on Fridays for Bible study, speaks through a voice box and acts like nothing’s wrong? Really? It’s sure easy to talk about forgetting and driving on when the going gets tough. The major question becomes, can we LIVE IT? How?

While driving home contemplation landed on this: Faith in FIDO can be fickle. However, ultimately it is necessary. There are certainly moments of great suffering when “forgetting it and driving on” seems impossible. In grief, when facing the unimaginable,  all we can do is pray for emotional and physical healing we can’t see or even imagine.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pep Talk: "Shock and Awe"

Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States of America? The world is shocked, protestors are in the streets and it’s a reminder of something very important.

First, to the shock. Images from a downtrodden Hillary Clinton election-night party were powerful. Democratic followers in tears and shock. In contrast, images from a raucous GOP celebration at Trump’s gathering showed followers in tears and shock too. 

Oxford American dictionary defines shock as, “A sudden effect upon a person’s mind or emotion.” America felt it when the reality television star surpassed 270 electoral votes to secure victory as our nation’s 45th president. At that moment, personally experiencing a sudden effect upon mind and emotion took my thoughts to a couple of favorite moments during the television sportscasting days for KCNC-TV (CBS4) in Denver.

The first came in Seattle, Washington in 1994. Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The #1 seeded Sonics were expected to steamroll a young Denver squad. The Nuggets shocked the NBA basketball world, upsetting the heavily favored Sonics. Sports fans remember Nuggets’ center Dikembe Mutombo lying on the floor, holding the basketball above his head in joyful celebration.

As a reporter covering the game, I’ll never forget being near Mutombo, capturing post-game reaction on the floor and then sprinting up the steps of the Seattle Center Coliseum to execute a live shot back to Denver. What will forever be remembered? The look on Sonics’ fans faces. Dressed head-to-toe in green and gold, they sat motionless in their seats. In absolute shock.

Later the same year, in the fall of ’94, your knucklehead scribe was in Ann Arbor, Michigan covering the CU Buffs against the Michigan Wolverines. In one of college football’s most amazing finishes, CU quarterback Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary prayer pass was answered as the Buffs pulled off a miraculous win. Ever heard 105,000 screaming fans go deathly silent because of a sudden effect upon mind and emotion? Unforgettable.

Just personal opinion, but the shock of Trump’s thumping of Clinton speaks to Americans rejecting the political status quo. I know from attempting to run for Colorado state representative the disgust citizens have with it. Dedicated campaign manager Pam Read and I knocked on more than 5,000 doors in House District 6 and talked with many on the streets. Often was heard, “Throw ‘em all out!” when talking about the sad state of affairs. The New York native shocked the world because Americans rejected the political status quo. Let’s hope it leads each party to some serious soul searching.

But Trump’s victory is a win for the American way. This country became great behind a belief that “anything is possible.” Few gave Trump a snow ball’s chance in Hades of winning any primaries, the GOP nomination, let alone the presidency. A good buddy offered wisely, “It’s the essence of America.”

Got a dream? Chase it with gusto. Shock the critics and provide an awe-inspiring reminder to others that, “If you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it!”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Pep Talk: "If We Seek It"

It’s comforting knowing there’s venues that tolerate old farts. For a good buddy and your knucklehead scribe one spot happens to be Bad Daddy’s. It’s a wonderful hang out in Cherry Creek North that embraces middle-aged men who love the music, beer and attention to sports offered on Saturday afternoons.

It’s a welcoming watering hole for embellishment, lively debate about today’s culture, listening to ‘80‘s classic rock, watching sports and savoring tasty food with the necessary hydration included. Harmless and productive, most of the time.

A recent trip to Bad Daddy’s involved watching Kansas State and Oklahoma State fight to the finish in Manhattan, Kansas. The Cowboys outlasting the Wildcats in a thriller. Mike Gundy is the current Oklahoma State head coach. The competitive-minded guy was the ‘Pokes quarterback in the late ’80’s during my Denver television sportscasting days covering the CU Buffs, who along with Okie State, used to play in the same conference. Gundy is a winner, his football program reflects his spirit.

Anyway, I digress. The point of this Pep Talk focuses on sitting at the bar shooting the bull with a friend. The conversation shifted to a family situation he’s experiencing. It involves a loved one’s addiction and current strategies employed to deal with it. It’s a challenging spot. A delicate balancing act between empathy and reality. Often, that lousy spot between a rock and hard spot. Ever been there? Sure you have. We all have. Anybody who tries to suggest differently is lying.

How to support, but at the same time not enable, a loved ones’ roller coaster ride with addiction? While watching the game and chatting, my mind quickly wandered to a young man considered like a son and his release from prison. Almost 26, handsome and smart but struggling to find meaningful purpose. During a recent visit, we had a conversation about the importance of becoming a student, not victim, of life’s experiences. The tall, green-eyed dude offered something profound while we were scrounging around Wal Mart. We were looking for clothes, hygiene products and other stuff to make a Colorado Springs’ half-way house half way comfortable during his three-month stay.

“I need to seek wisdom.” Wow. Good for you buddy! The Louisiana native added, “I find it in the Bible, in Proverbs Four.” While incarcerated a fellow inmate offered the talented musician this morsel: “Believe what it says in the fourth chapter in verses five through seven about wisdom.”

Here it is: “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you. Love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Thought it cost you all, get understanding.” Sound logic from the greatest selling book in the history of mankind.

Whatever you’re trying to accomplish this week, seek wisdom in an effort to achieve goals and overcome challenges associated with the endeavor. At Bad Daddy’s, from the Bible and beyond, wisdom is abundant and available if we seek it with an open mind!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pep Talk: "Not Someday, Today!"

“This isn’t about someday finding a cure,” stated Kerry Olson of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “It’s about finding a cure today.” Your knucklehead scribe has been getting quite an indoctrination into LLS’s good works since being nominated for its “Man of the Year” contest. This annual event pits passionate fundraisers against one another. May the best man, when it comes to raising money, win!

Nobody but cancer loses from the nationwide campaign. Last year it raised almost $39 million for blood cancer research. The emerging laboratory and clinical work (benches to bedsides) is exciting stuff. It has experts predicting the dreaded disease might be curable in the next 20-30 years. Can you imagine? In our lifetime, a world without cancer?

Excellent research being conducted on blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma is a major reason we’re seeing rapid advancements in effective treatments for ALL cancers. One startling statistic? 40% of new cancer drugs coming on the market have their origins in blood cancer research. It makes sense considering blood flows to every nook and cranny of our bodies. If research creates drugs to slow down blood cancers, most, if not all, cancers are endangered. “It’s an exciting time in fighting cancer,” says Rocky Mountain LLS dynamic Executive Director Rebecca Russell. In addition, research and treatment benefits are spilling over to other worldwide health challenges like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and beyond. 

But too many are still dying. There are mountains to climb. One form of blood cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), has baffled those searching for answers. Treatment has changed little in four decades. At a recent gathering, I learned the critical funding role agencies like LLS provide for continued research. “Drug companies don’t have the patience to fund work in this area,” admitted a doctor/researcher. The passionate man works at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus and receives LLS support. “These breakthroughs don’t happen overnight.”

The breakthroughs are paying off. Cancers that just a few years ago were considered terminal are succumbing without the usual, and debilitating, bombardment of radiation, chemotherapy and/or surgery. More folks are surviving and thriving!

Team Mark Mac’s campaign fundraising goal is $150,000. If you’re interested in helping, let me know. If we raise that amount, or more, the team wins two tickets to next year’s world cancer research symposium. We’ll get to hang with those leading the charge against this fearsome, but now, vulnerable foe. Olson joked, “You’ll get to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” The horses are galloping right now. At breakneck speed research stallions are unlocking once hidden clues necessary for cancer’s demise. It speaks to the power of perseverance.

Effectively dealing with the challenges of life, whether cancer or beyond. They arrive when least desired and make a mess of things. Don’t surrender. Immunotherapy replacing chemotherapy. Our bodies, not poison, conquering cancer.

New discoveries leading to a shift in thinking and strategies leading to healthy outcomes. Could it be, far beyond fighting cancer, what we need to prevail against what ails? Not some day, but today?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pep Talk: "We Have The Power!"

Your knucklehead scribe was exiting the gym when a quote on the Kinetics Fitness Studio bulletin board caught the eye, rattled the brain and summoned the cell phone to capture it in a picture. “Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”

Immediately, examples began popping into my cranium. 

Like a wonderful collaboration between the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Denver Police Department. It’s a co-responding effort pairing, as first responders, mental health professionals and police officers. The program has proven to be successful and other Denver-area law enforcement agencies are following suit. The innovative “out-of-the-box” idea has drastically curtailed arrests and dramatically increased services being offered to unstable individuals through mental health providers and not jails. We have a mental health crisis in America. We have too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced citizens. The future can be better. A more collaborative spirit between law enforcement and mental health agencies has the power to make it so!

Example two: Three young women have been forever transformed by school visits to Haiti. “The people there are so awesome,” said one of the young ladies. “They have nothing but are so friendly and welcoming.” Ady, Kenneal and Cecilia are taking action to help children of the desperately poor Caribbean nation recently hammered by Hurricane Matthew while still trying to recover from the 2010 catastrophic earthquake. The juniors from Colorado Academy are organizing a 5K run/walk to raise awareness and money to refurbish two Haitian schools and provide more music, sports and arts for children enrolled in those schools. Three teenagers with servants’ hearts believe the future can be better and they have the power to make it so. Bravo!

Example three: “Mark, I’m being released to a halfway house next week!” was the wonderful news from a talented and handsome young man. Three years ago, I was challenged by this dude to begin a workout program for men in the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. A Stronger Cord was born. Since then, it has morphed into a wellness outreach movement designed to encourage participants from all walks of life to embrace the value of fitness, relationship building and community service.

Another major challenge in America today is the relapse rate for folks on the comeback trail from addiction and incarceration. It’s not surprising, considering current policies tend to keep them isolated and without adequate support upon re-entry into society. ASC is trying to change that with an emphasis on wellness. Healthier in mind, body and spirit with a supportive social network encouraging participants to be fitness-minded, dependable and productive folks who seek a stronger cord to families, purpose and communities.

Three examples. I know there's more. It all starts with us believing the future can be better and we have the power to make it so. Look around, be inspired and take action. Live that truth this week!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pep Talk: "Positive Psychology"

On an absolutely gorgeous Centennial State fall afternoon, your knucklehead scribe maneuvered the golf cart behind where a brother-from-another-mother’s ball rested. It was not a friendly spot. Thick rough hid the dimpled sphere rather well, while a grove of trees hampered progress toward the green and a creek flowed steadily nearby. Danger lurked everywhere.

As the small business owner exited the cart, all we could do is look at each other and chuckle. My buddy had no shot. Doing my best to encourage, while reserving the right to be a wise guy, this flowed from lips: “Remember, the four most powerful words in the English language, when strung together? I believe in you!” We laughed even harder. The rescue attempt sucked on the way to a double bogey. For the record, the dude who runs Elder Auto birdied two of the first three holes on the back side and kicked this hacker’s butt.  

Anyway, back to the point of this Pep Talk: The power of having someone believe in us. Wow, makes a difference doesn’t it? This much I do know. On this roller coaster journey known as life, it has saved my bacon often. To name many, but not all: Parents, coaches, friends, business colleagues, siblings and wife. Along the way, despite unexpected twists and turns, always there to encourage a sometimes wayward soul. Encourage. It’s my favorite word in the English language, defined as: “To give hope and confidence to.”

So as we chased a little white ball around beautiful grounds of a central Denver golf course, thy cranium, considering how bad I was playing, kept wandering to earlier that day. To a morning breakfast event celebrating the good works of the Mental Health Center of Denver.

Six hundred people packed into an excellent meeting space at Glendale’s Infinity Park to learn more about MHCD’s mission to enrich lives and minds by focusing on strengths and well being. The organization’s leader, president and CEO, Carl Clark inspirationally spoke about MHCD’s commitment to what’s called “Positive Psychology.”

I almost levitated from my chair as the charismatic doctor shared the organization’s belief that focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses (we all have each) is a better way to reaching a higher level of wellness. Agreed.

That philosophy has been the bedrock of Victory Productions’ work for 15 years. Encouraging folks to be students, not victims, of life’s experiences. It led to the creation of a wellness outreach movement, A Stronger Cord, designed to encourage Americans, especially the isolated, vulnerable and displaced to embrace the value of being more fit, connected and giving. Healthier, individually and collectively.

To believe in ourselves? It helps to have encouragement from others. Often, considering how life kicks us around, we need support. This journey is challenging. Please embrace the fact we should not try it alone. We need a loyal team of encouragers. 

Positive psychology. Use it often this week. Even when, like for a golfing buddy, the lie is poor, give others hope and confidence they have a shot!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pep Talk: "Smoke Pits"

“I try and stay away from that place,” declared a fellow knucklehead one Saturday during an A Stronger Cord community service project. We were picking up trash. “It’s not good for me.”

The handsome and fit veteran was talking about a piece of the parking lot at the Denver Rescue Mission’s Crossing facility, home to the New Life Program. The ASC wellness outreach movement has worked with these men on the comeback trail for the past three years. The “place” referenced is small in stature but large in temptation. When visiting, it’s close to where I park. It’s a popular spot for the guys.

“The only thing that goes on at the pit is lots of smoking and even more complaining.” Four men laughed in unison at that sarcastic truth before resuming helping others. ASC Saturdays are about community service. Everybody has challenges. They may be addiction, incarceration, divorce, mental illness, physical illness, bad attitude or whatever. A beloved buddy right now is ravaged by cancer. We’re susceptible to despair. Knowing and believing this, ASC encourages participants to stay active in good works because we know it’s good for us, especially in troubling times.

To accomplish that simple but not easy task, we have to stay away from smoke pits. In this instance, the venue at the Crossing is a hang out area of asphalt, chairs and a table  fueling addiction to nicotine and negativity. Neither a good thing for men trying to become students, no longer victims, of life experiences. For any of us, consistently participating in activities harmful to physical, mental and spiritual health is, well, destructive.

But we have our smoke pits. Anybody stating differently is lying. It might not be located on the grounds of a respected recovery agency, but smoking pits lurk. They’re ready, willing and able to derail the journey. There are places we should avoid, at all costs, because outcomes are rarely healthy and productive. Where are we KNOWINGLY wandering physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually and not honoring, nurturing and adding value to our lives? Where are the smoke pits?

Patience, or lack of, is a big one for me. Honestly, your scribe gets discouraged sometimes about ASC’s progress. We’re trying to work with police departments, non profits and faith-based groups looking for a new way to engage the community. Why not community outreach focused on encouraging others to become more fit, connected and giving? Healthier? Individually and collectively? America needs fresh ideas. We need to build a stronger cord to one another. We’re too divided. 

What’s taking so long to get traction? Self doubt creeps in too. “Am I crazy?” Two personal smoke pits. Folks, we have to stay away from the smoke pits. With every detrimental drag on whatever is readily available wherever we unproductively roam, it sucks air from our lungs, brains, souls and lives.

Nothing good happens while lingering at smoke pits. Pour that time into beneficial service to others and yourself. It’s far healthier.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pep Talk: "Be Curious and Welcoming"

“You can’t come in here,” was sternly stated to your knucklehead scribe. Taken aback, I queried, “Why?” The dapperly-dressed government employee offered, “You were not invited.”

What a bummer. My past. It’s hard to escape sometimes. In the almost three years of working closely with fellow travelers through the A Stronger Cord wellness outreach movement, one thing has become quite apparent. It’s tough for many to escape our past. Our past might be as a member of the media or an isolated class of folks trying to comeback from affliction.

In terms of trying to encourage others to become superior to their former selves, there’s a fine line to walk. Between being soft of past transgressions while open to fresh ideas on how to successfully re-integrate isolated, vulnerable and displaced folks into our communities. In many ways, our nation’s police departments have become isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Relations between women and men in blue and the communities they serve have become hostile, tragic and unacceptable.

With a strong belief that A Stronger Cord’s community-building wellness philosophy  could help with the healing, I was trying to attend a recent U.S. Department of Justice gathering of Denver area leaders. It was a much publicized community forum with many influential, especially Black and Latino, Mile High City leaders pondering how to improve the ugly law enforcement/community climate present in America today. Among the myriad of issues, there is little trust.

The polite but resolute dude who would not allow a concerned community activist into the meeting was just doing his job. But, it was a case of mistaken identity. He thought I was a member of the press. In some capacity, I’ve been on Denver television and radio for almost 30 years in some capacity. These days as a shameless pitchman for Denver-area companies on a CBS4 program called, “Help Team 4.” But that’s occasional part-time work. Helping others achieve goals and overcome challenges with ideas like a wellness outreach movement designed to encourage folks to become more fit, connected and giving has become full-time work.

The excellent security guy was performing tasks as assigned in keeping the press at bay. It was a case of misunderstanding. Of being judged by the past.

It was no big deal. Once the event was over, I stood outside and made connections with summit attendees. It was still a productive moment and helped spread the word about ASC’s potential value to police departments looking for innovative ways to build community bridges where today too many barriers exist.

As I drove away from the event, my mind kept wandering to the importance of not judging others too harshly. We all have our past, we’re known for something. It’s often a case of mistaken identity leading to missed opportunities. 

This week let’s take time to discover what another is known for, not just what they’re known as. Be curious and welcoming. It will open our world to new and, possibly, transformative ideas at home, work and elsewhere.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pep Talk: "Grab The Keys and Car Seats"

“We should give a prize to the classmate with the most grandkids,” was a suggestion offered to an organizer of our 40th Raytown South (MO) high school reunion. A festive night was wrapping up with the deejay playing hits from 1976. When was the last time, if ever, you’ve heard Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music?”

It had been ten years since the last gathering and much had changed. Not too many folks were grandparents in their late 40’s, but many are now. Few were in retirement, or close to it, some are now. A decade ago, many eagerly chased professional objectives, some are still. But chatter about work seemed less important for women and men nearing 60 years old.

The seasons of life. Grand desires taking a back seat to grand kids. An appreciation for good health - too many classmates have passed - was another theme as we imbibed, embellished and embraced. Ray-South Cardinals’ alums also talked about the importance of staying connected more consistently. Simple, not easy.

Just a personal opinion, but I believe isolation is a major piece to the divisiveness plaguing our country. Modern communication platforms have led to far fewer personal touches. The depth of knowledge, trust and concern we gain from interacting in person is melting along with the polar ice cap. The latter leads to rising ocean waters while the former has led to a lessening ability to socially relate to one another. Neither is good for us.

While writing my mind wanders to other connections experienced on the Kansas City-area visit for the reunion. For instance, quality time spent with the woman who delivered me and devoted many years to ferrying your scribe to youth sports’ activities, orthodontic appointments and other parental responsibilities associated with raising children.

My 81-year-old mother has been relieved of those duties. Her four children have moved onto bearing children who matured and birthed children too. Our senior populations, the great grand parents of our country, deserve meaningful and healthy connections. As a society we need to do a better job of decreasing the isolation so prevalent in their golden years. 

The seasons of life bring welcomed and undesired change, we know that. Connections are critical to effectively dealing with the roller coaster journey from womb to wherever. We should not be deceived, the voyage is fraught with peril if we choose to navigate, alone, its often turbulent waters.

Reunions. Gatherings. Connections. Call them what you want. What they are called is less important than what they create. They unite us. Recent unrest in Charlotte and elsewhere are examples of Americans desperate need to build a stronger cord to one another.

40-year reunion reflections? The Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit” was another 1976 hit song. The lyrics include “So put me on a highway and show me a sign....” We need signs of progress. An emerging generation of grand kids deserve better. We all do.

This week, let’s grab the keys, if applicable, the car seats and get moving!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pep Talk: "Angels Among Us"

After a recent A Stronger Cord wellness outreach event, a passionate participant with an awesome beard muttered fantastic words. “Mark, the pastor of my church encouraged everybody to be a thermostat, not a thermometer.”

Amen to that, buddy.

The latter measures temperature while the former regulates it. The preacher was challenging congregants to be conscious of what they bring to the party when they walk into the room. Do we make others comfortable? Do we uncomfortably raise the heat or chill the air? What kind of energy do we emit? For whatever reason my feeble brain wandered to another friend, definitely a thermostat, Doug Wittenberg.

I’ve written about the father of six frequently as a courageous battle with cancer continues. Recently many family members and friends gathered to celebrate his 50th birthday. “What a year’s it’s been,” cracked the devoted hubby. 

That is a vast understatement. It started with a sore throat. Then, the discovery of cancer in his thyroid, surgery to remove the tumor that left a nasty scar (one can barely detect it now) from behind the left ear, down along the neck and to the Adam’s Apple. From there, the adventure brought massive doses of radiation while his head was strapped down with a Hannibal Lector-looking mask. Doctors didn’t want Doug’s noggin moving while modern medicine’s laser machine tried to work its magic. For most, a wild and scary roller coaster ride.

This man’s spirit has never wavered. These days, in a brief respite from life-sparing treatments, the Denver native is back working full time. But recent news was sobering. The cancer is spreading, chemo looms as does a trip to Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic for fresh ideas. While attending his half-century celebratory party, I observed, and marveled, at the energy, warmth and love the engaging man radiates. For sure, he’s a thermostat.

“Yes, it’s been a tough year,” Wittenberg admits. “But it’s about turning tribulation into jubilation.” Wow. He quickly rattles off the children’s successes, the love and support of an amazing wife, Jennifer and the continued growth of their Family Life ministry. He joked, “We had more than 500 couples show up at our last retreat. I couldn’t speak much (cancer treatments have reduced his voice to a whisper) but many found that a blessing.”

Hah hah. 

It’s been said, “We have to be tested to bring forth the testimony.” We all have our stuff, don’t we? For an aging ol’ jock, this Pep Talk is being written well before the sun will rise for what is forecast to be a beautiful mid-September Centennial State day. The mind is restless. It’s plagued by self-condemnation for things trivial in comparison to Doug’s challenges. “This affliction is just temporary,” says the faith warrior.

What a blessing to have reminders about the importance of being a thermostat, not a thermometer; of realizing jubilation is born from tribulation; of understanding the test comes before the testimony. Life’s lessons and inspirations. When we’re open to receive them, they’re present and available in the form of angels, like Doug, among us. 

This week, don’t overlook them!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pep Talk: "The Boss Knows Best"

With a son living in New York City, visits are frequent. None is ever complete without a trip to Ground Zero. It’s a pilgrimage to honor those who perished, lost loved ones and responded but continue to suffer physically and emotionally for their efforts.

Our world forever changed on September 11, 2001. The ability to see goodness in one another drastically eroded in the horror of falling buildings, fire, toxic ash and death. A friend was a New York University student at the time. He recalls hearing a loud “boom” when the first plane hit, the shudder of the ground when the first tower fell and the cloud of hazardous dust that billowed eastward from lower Manhattan and toward NYU’s campus. Today he’s among thousands receiving yearly, federally mandated, physicals to search for signs of illness from inhaling dangerous chemicals. 15 years later, according to the World Trade Center Health Program, more than 37,000 have sought treatment for medical conditions related to the attacks.

Rock legend Bruce Springsteen’s 2002 album, “The Rising” contains many songs in remembrance of a day that will live in infamy. One is called, “My City Of Ruins.” I love the closing portion of the ballad. There, in an emotional crescendo, the New Jersey native implores America to “rise up” and overcome despair with hope.

When visiting Ground Zero, it’s a favorite exercise to stand at the Freedom Tower’s base and gaze skyward following the building’s seemingly endless march toward the heavens. It’s a powerful reminder to life’s uncertainties and the importance of mustering the will to rebuild when and where necessary.

The nearby museum touches my soul deeply for its tragic loss of life artifacts and the sacrifice of so many. Springsteen honors them in another song about first responders who went “Up the stairs, into the fire.”

New York City is a busy place. However, the pace slows considerably when standing before The National September 11 Memorial. The reflective water pools occupy land where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Touching the names engraved in the bronze panels edging the memorial, hearing the rushing water and feeling mist the twin waterfalls create inspires a somber experience not easily forgotten. 

These days Facebook reminds us of posts from our past. I wrote the following three years ago on 9/11: “To those who lost loved ones on this day 12 years ago, to those who deal with injuries suffered, to those who responded so bravely to help others, please know you’re in our thoughts and prayers that time may somehow ease the pain. Emotionally and physically.”

The thoughts and prayer remain the same. Another Springsteen song, “Empty Sky” remembers the 2,753 who perished with, “I woke up this morning, I could barely breathe, just an empty impression in the bed there you used to be....”

Let’s never forget, life often leaves us with an empty impression of the way things used to be. We have to courageously go up the stairs and into the fire. We must resiliently rise up. 

The Boss knows best. It’s the American way.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pep Talk: "Encouragement's Magic"

A beloved buddy is suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s. It’s the first time your knucklehead scribe has intimately dealt with this terrible disease. My heart aches for those in the muck of this mind-trapping form of dementia. Their families, too. I feel blessed my 81-year-old mother is still sharp as a tack. We have lively conversations that, in describing them, one often mentions “debates” while the other prefers “arguments.”

A recent one (hey, a blind sow occasionally finds an acorn) reached common ground. Cool. Grateful also applies. We acknowledged most would trade places IN A HEART BEAT to be able to engage loved ones’ in robust conversations like we enjoy most of the time. Alzheimer’s dark and wretched march into the mind denies that. Tragic. 

So mom and son ended up talking, and surprisingly, agreeing, about the importance of realizing life rarely goes according to plan. At least not our plan. Those “What the heck is going on around here?” moments come from unexpected directions and diverse sources. They are painful. We know that. We also know how we react plays a huge role in our future. Victim or student? Our decision, choose wisely.

While these thoughts were marinating in the cranium, for whatever reason, this blurted from my mouth: “Mom, let me tell you about Rich Dixon!” I had met the amazing guy the day before.

“The first time I tried to push the wheelchair down the hall, it was impossible,” stated an affable man who many years ago lost the use of his legs. In 1987 the Fort Collins, Colorado resident fell off a roof while hanging Christmas lights and suffered life-changing spinal cord injuries. The retired mathematics teacher was the featured speaker at a Denver Rescue Mission event. Employees, guests and Mission residents soaked in an inspirational and faithful example to the power of the human spirit to overcome.  

“On a perfectly polished hospital tile floor with no friction, I could not push a wheelchair down a lousy ten-foot strip of tape.” The dog lover struggled almost a decade with the new reality. “The little blue guy (handicap sign) was an open wound.” Then one day a friend showed up with a hand-powered bicycle and stated firmly, “You’re getting on that sucker and riding it.”

Nothing has been the same since. “I lost hope falling off that roof and found it again through the hand-cycle.” Since that defining moment, the engaging motivational speaker slowly began the transformation. He cycled down the block, then around the neighborhood and beyond. Way beyond. Dixon has hand cycled across America many times in many directions. Today he hosts an annual event, Rich’s Ride, to raise money for a variety of causes. Triumph has come from tragedy. “Without my buddy’s insistence, I don’t know if this happens. Others loved me enough to not give up on me even when I had.”

We all have stuff like Alzheimer’s, injury, addiction or whatever. Let’s make sure this week we care for one another. Let’s encourage those we touch that they can traverse ten feet of lousy tape on the floor.  Whatever physical, mental, emotional or spiritual adversity lies before us? Well, we’re gonna push through it.

Ya never know, encouraging one another this way could change a person’s spirit and attitude about life in ways never imagined. It sure worked for Rich. Encouragement’s magic. Good for his buddies for caring so deeply. Let’s do the same this week!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pep Talk: "The Sabah Spirit"

As the guest speaker at South Denver Kiwanis methodically rose from his chair, a powerful statement flowed from his lips: “What I have learned is, when you’re having unusual symptoms, don’t drive to the hospital, call 911. The paramedics know best.”

That was one of many heartfelt thoughts from Joe Sabah, mentor, friend and stroke-survivor, as he addressed an attentive crowd of Kiwanians. 12 years ago, the now 85-year-old struggled to get out of bed. After calling his roommate for assistance, they drove to Porter hospital. At the time, the facility in south-central Denver specialized in treating heart attack victims, not those suffering from strokes. Unfortunately, in 2004, there was only one stroke hospital in a five-state region, Swedish. “At Porter, I went to the back of the line in the waiting room for 2 1/2 hours. If I had called 911 instead they would have taken me to the correct hospital.”

Research suggests those suffering a stroke, if treated within 2/12 hours, have a good chance of surviving and making a full recovery. Joe knows. He didn’t and lost most movement along his body’s left side. He walks slowly with a custom-made cane carved from a Sassafras tree. “It’s my chick magnet,” jokes the beloved man who teaches others how to speak for fun and profit.

Most of us know someone who has suffered a stroke. The founder of the Colorado chapter of the National Speakers Association informed the crowd, it’s not difficult to notice signs of stroke distress. “Ask a person to smile, raise their arms or repeat the sentence ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb.’ If they are unable, call 911!”

That was the most important point made during 20 minutes of passionate, humorous and inspiring thoughts. If you, or someone with you, are displaying stroke signs, keep it simple, call 911 immediately. Summon emergency personnel and insist on being transported to a hospital specializing in assisting stroke victims.

Sabah’s road to recovery has not been easy. He described long sessions with a speech therapist to regain the ability to speak. “It’s my livelihood.” A man of strong faith also believes his experience can benefit others. He humorously warns of a handful of quick and easy ways to have a stroke:
  1. Smoke
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Elevated cholesterol
  4. Excess weight
  5. Lack of exercise
Those who have consistently read this Pep Talk blog, or heard me speak about my life experiences, know I’m a big believer in becoming “Students, not victims, of the experiences of our lives.” That philosophy fuels the passion for serving through the A Stronger Cord wellness outreach movement and everything Victory Productions offers in encouraging others to achieve goals and overcome challenges. Thanks to being influenced by warriors like Joe Sabah, it’s difficult not to have that type of outlook. “My job is not done,” Sabah defiantly stated as he pounded the Sassafras cane into the meeting room carpet.

Are you dealing with adversity right now? Is life not unfolding according to plan? For most of us the answer to each question is a resounding “yes.” There are usually detours along the way. If not, it’s certainly a stroke of good luck.

Navigate the change of direction in healthy and productive fashion. Embrace the Sabah spirit. It is special and successful, much like the man emanating it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pep Talk: "Three-Way Success Test"

Out of the blue an email arrived recently. The subject line stated: “Thanks for Lemons Into Margaritas!” As an author, I’ve written four books, “Lemons” was number three, published several years ago. The email came from a woman struggling from addiction and self doubt: I just finished reading your book and wanted to thank you for the power of the Terrific Trio. It's really gotten me thinking on my future. I don't know where it will take me, but I am excited to continue my journey!”

The woman’s heartwarming correspondence left me curious about what had been written long ago titled “Terrific Trio.” So, I pulled out a copy of the book and took a trip down memory lane:

I was watching a re-run of Saturday Night Live as the cast mocked Eliot Spitzer’s embarrassing 2008 exit as governor of New York. Watching this took me back to the actual day and the live television reports of his sudden fall from grace. 
The leader of the Empire State held a press conference announcing he was resigning for having a relationship with a prostitute. This unfortunate incident is another example of someone who seemed to have it all: great wife, three beautiful daughters, powerful job, and—until that day—a solid reputation. What we now know is that he also had self-destructive tendencies—demons, if you prefer. 
I think we all have our own demon(s) and a key aspect of leading a successful life is that we keep our demons in check. Those demons might be power, money, shopping, gambling, or alcohol—alcohol being mine, and one I continually work at keeping at bay. Bottom line is, without persistent monitoring, self-discipline, and character, within each of us is the capability to self-destruct.   
Watching the politician’s resignation announcement reminded me of the Comeback Coach’s simple (but obviously difficult) three-way test available daily to help us avoid the shame, guilt, and misfortune that self-destructive demons can bring into our lives.   
You know it by now, but some things are worth repeating: Make a solemn vow that you will entertain only those thoughts, words, and actions that honor you, nurture those dependent upon you, and add value to the communities you serve. This terrific trio of strong character traits will go a long way to help prevent painful, Spitzer-like plummets from goodwill to disgrace. 

Fast forward to the present and US Olympian Ryan Lochte. What was he thinking? Whatever went through the celebrated swimmer’s mind in the early morning hours of Rio was far from honor, nurture and add value. But let’s remember, we’re all a bunch of knuckleheads, often one step from stupid.

Lucky for us, it’s usually not splashed all over media for the whole world to judge and condemn. However, the one thing we share, whether famous or not, is the ability to grow and become superior to our former selves from painful experiences. 

An unexpected email sparked remembrance of “Honor, nurture and add value.” The three-way success test will help us achieve goals and overcome challenges. Take it often. Today, tomorrow and forever!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pep Talk: "Stinking Pot of Wisdom"

More than 30 years into this journalism gig, your knucklehead scribe is blessed to still dabble in television through hosting “Help Team 4” segments for KCNC-TV, the CBS-owned station in Denver. From 1988-2006, I worked there as a sports guy. It’s great to drop in and see old friends, many nearing retirement age. We visit and wonder, “Where in the heck did time go?”

That’s a topic for another day. A recent trek to the station for a segment featuring Denver Regenerative Medicine led to a chance encounter with its spokesperson, Mark Schlereth. Through the sports world I’ve known the former Broncos’ offensive lineman, known as “Stink”, (superstitious about washing practice gear) during a 12-year playing career with the Broncos and Washington Redskins.

We caught up on families and other stuff while preparing to tape several 90-second segments that would air on CBS4 throughout the afternoon and early evening hours. The focus was the company’s effectiveness in using our personal stem cells to stimulate healing in our aching bodies. The three-time Super Bowl champion knows a thing or two about an achy body. The current ESPN analyst had 29 surgeries during his playing days. Let’s just say sleeping comfortably is a challenge for the 50-year-old.

Anyway, as we chatted between takes in the brightly-lit studio with folks around us ready to answer phones when they started ringing, the conversation shifted from families and sports to life. Specifically, the importance of associations. Who are we hanging out with? Are they lifting us up or dragging us down?

“It’s the old crab pot story,” said the well-dressed Alaska native. Schlereth grew up working on fishing vessels during summers between classes and playing football for the University of Idaho.

“It was amazing to watch crabs. Fishermen need to put a lid on a pot with one crab in it. But you get more than one in a pot? No need for a lid.” The show producer was not pressing us to resume taping and Schlereth continued. “The reason? When you get two or more crabs in a pot? Any that try and escape will be dragged back down by the others.”

Be careful who we associate with, right? It’s one of the key foundational principles of the A Stronger Cord (ASC) wellness outreach movement. Three years of work has revealed the importance of associations is one key factor in helping others bounce back from addiction, incarceration and isolation. If the recovery process does not involve developing relationships with a broader range of folks - fitness-minded, dependable and productive ones via ASC - it’s tough to climb out of the addiction, incarceration or isolation crab pot. That’s true whether we’re black, white or brown or live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street. Most of us have a physical, emotional, spiritual or financial crab pot we’re trying to escape.

This week, let’s make sure to lift one another up, not drag each other down.  Any other philosophy would just stink.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pep Talk: "Can't Vouch For Arnold"

I love being an uncle. Anybody else in that fox hole? I know, tons of you. Anyway, in last week’s Pep Talk your knucklehead scribe wrote about 11-year-old nephew Nolan Schmitt. This week, it’s his older sister’s turn. 

Hey everybody, say hi to Shannon Schmitt, “Shanny Boo.” High school sophomore. A dynamo. Thy feeble cranium worked overtime pondering an accurate description of the 15-year-old wonder kind. The daughter of Mary and Victor? This ain’t easy, but here’s four: smart, athletic, respectful and persistent. I’ll take that quartet - maybe replace athletic with fit - on my tombstone, TOMORROW.

Shannon, before-mentioned-brother and parents, the Schmitt’s, recently stayed with the GansIntosh crew for eight Centennial State days. We had a blast. While in Vail the kids heard Uncle Mark share a cherished story from my sportscasting days. However, its lesson resonates today in remembering the importance of persistent in trying to achieve goals and overcome challenges.

Whenever darling wife drags me - kidding - to this magical mountain town and we’re strolling past Pepi’s, a legendary lodging and dining spot, this aging jock loves to share a story of the quest to find Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was 1989. For KCNC-TV, I’m covering the World Alpine Ski Championships. Austria had owned the mountain that day. Our executive producer says, “McIntosh, go find Arnold.”

At the time, the Austria-born icon was a body builder turned movie star. We knew he was in town and - it’s Arnold - would be celebrating. It was our mission to find him and get sound. The search ended, rather quickly as I recall, in the basement bar of Pepi’s. The place was packed. The future politician was in a far corner, with buddies. Whooping it up. The station photographer and I squirmed through the crowd and presented ourselves: “Arnold, can we talk?” was my question. The powerfully-build brute growled, “Can’t you see I’m eating my strudel?” I belched back, “Sure, I see you’re eating your strudel. Please, one thought about Austria’s great day on the hill.” We got the sound. It was good. Persistence paid off.

Fast forward to this past week of hosting beloved Chicago-based family members. Shanny Boo’s persistent made us better. When you hang with the Schmitt’s, you play games. You compete. It can get intense. There’s frequent debate about rules, or lack of them. Fun and spirited are our games. One kept getting back to the legality of offering teammates’ clues using words that rhymed. The hockey standout kept saying, “You can’t use rhymes.” At first, few would listen but the straight-A student was persistent. “It’s against the rules to use words that rhyme. Look it up.”

By golly the softball slugger was right. 

I won’t get deep into the academic and athletic accomplishments of this dark-haired beauty. They’re off the charts too. Smart, athletic, respectful and persistent. Those traits come to mind when thinking of an, admitted, adored niece. Ya know what? It would not hurt us to emulate any of those terrific traits.  

Shanny Boo, thanks for the Importance of persistence” reminder. Your goofy uncle can’t vouch for Arnold, but it sure got me pumped up!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pep Talk: "A Productive Learning Position"

Toiling around Target recently your knucklehead scribe asked a simple question of my shopping partner, “What did you think about today?” The question was posed to nephew Nolan Schmitt. Preparing for his first year of middle school the Glenview, Illinois native was visiting with sister and parents. The athletic boy, along with his father and many others, was part of A Stronger Cord’s “Help Out” contingent serving others in northwest Denver on a Saturday morning. 

“I thought it was cool” was the response as the baseball and hockey fanatic pushed a noisy cart around the store. The blue-eyed dude plays well with others. He dove right in the fun of the Denver Dream Center’s “Adopt A Block” program designed to build relationships to our community’s most isolated and vulnerable populations. We have too many.

I love watching this wiry kid play sports. His older sister too. They are athletes, competitors and team players. I watch them display gifts and talents on the fields of athletic competition and see the value it brings to their lives. Youth sports teaches kids about life and the importance of setting goals, working hard and dealing with adversity. This much I know, youth sports taught me a ton, long ago.

A few hours after our shopping spree had ended and the party of family and friends was in full swing, Nolan lost a tough match on the ping pong table. Disappointment reigned within and an 11-year-old sulked for a spell on the stairs.

His plan had hit a snag and it sucked. We can all relate, right? Life rarely goes the way WE plan. The question is, and always will be, how do we handle life’s roller coaster? Going back and forth from the basement ping pong action to other party activities on the main floor, more than once this ol’ jock passed a disappointed young man mourning the dashing of dreams to win the friendly, but darn competitive, table tennis test.

For whatever reason my mind wandered to the men ASC encourages to become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive dudes seeking a stronger cord to families, purpose and community. Guess what? They’ve had plenty of disappointment too. A lot of them self inflicted. Now, they’re trying to come back from poor decisions, lousy childhoods and tough luck.

We all have our tale of woe. How to press on, learn from the setbacks and become superior to our former selves? Whether losing in sports, fighting addiction, bouncing back from divorce, illness, incarceration or whatever challenge, it really boils down to this: Student or victim? Our choice, choose wisely.

The other day I heard a Denver Rescue Mission chaplain mutter this gem: “God is not interested in our condition, he’s interested in our position!” Amen. We all have our conditions, this week, let’s make sure we take a productive learning position toward them!

At the very least, just like Nolan, we’ll be winners for the effort.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pep Talk: "The Benefits Transformation Brings"

“I came to Denver two years ago a lost man,” said the Arkansas native who moved to the Centennial State from California. Isolation and addiction had almost suffocated dreams and desires from the veteran’s life. They had definitely drained his wallet. “When your money is spent, so are you” was one of many powerful truths spilling from his heart this evening.

The past two years have been a blessing getting to know Darwin Ben. The 48-year-old is a graduate of the Denver Rescue Mission’s “New Life Program.” The intelligent man has been active in the A Stronger Cord wellness outreach movement too. I’m also a mentor. My apologies if journalistic objectivity might be tainted just a tad. 

This much your knucklehead scribe knows to be true. It was a thrill to be in attendance at The Rock church in northeast Denver to hear Ben’s first sermon as an ordained minister. The book of Luke was emphasized, especially the story of the prodigal son who wandered far before returning to a loving welcome from his father.

“We sometimes get things before we’re ready for them” was another point that reverberated deeply within me, and from the crowd’s reaction, several others in the audience. For Ben, it was reference to fathering a child when one himself and the resolve to become the father all children deserve. Better late than never, right?

25 years ago while serving America in the first Gulf War, the Navy ship Ben was serving on struck a mine in the Persian Gulf. The blast threw him against a wall and severely injured the back of his head. Surgeons took skin from his leg to patch up the noggin. Where the patch resides, there is no hair. I’ve joked with him the back of his scalp looks like, “A map of the United States.”

All kidding aside, this man has a plan, purpose and road map for the remainder of life. He clearly understands a calling to serve God and people with his exceptional preaching skills. The journey to reach this destination has been anything but easy. The unfortunate military injury aside, many wounds have been self-inflicted.

Transformation knows no color, gender or tax bracket. It begins and ends with a person realizing there’s a better way. For many, like Ben - me too - there is a spiritual foundation to a renewing of mind, body and spirit. An internal compass always ready and available to guide our path if we ever misplace the map.

More than once during his inspiring message, I shouted “Razorback” in admiration and pride for the University of Arkansas fan. The minister’s journey is a half century old. The future holds much promise. The prodigal son has returned and is rejoiced. You know what? It’s true for all of us. We all have gifts and talents. Perhaps we’re utilizing them productively, perhaps not.

The good news is, it’s never too late to commence considering the benefits transformation brings to our souls and to those we touch with its spirit.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pep Talk: "Success Is A Team Effort"

“Stop, stop right here” was the declarative statement of the 26-year-old photographer leading the charge up Vail Mountain. Like a dutiful soldier, your scribe froze in his tracks. I looked around expecting to see wildlife. None was present. Instead, my New York City-based son was snapping pictures of the exposed roots of Aspen trees along our path.

“Aspen roots grow horizontally and connect with each other,” said the writing team member of NBC’s Late Night With Seth Myers. He was capturing on film the complex entanglement of tree roots that resembled beehive honeycombs.

While a father watched a son express a passion and talent through photography, the old man’s mind wandered to the state of our world today in the wake of Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. A nation in turmoil because we have lost our way when it comes to connecting with one another.

We need to be like Aspens, and reach out to one another for support or we will topple.

A few days later during Kyle’s week-long visit to Colorado, many of us attended a Colorado Rockies' baseball game at Coors Field. While we sat in the stands on a beautiful Centennial State summer evening, the quick-witted offspring began telling stories to his girlfriend about the Rockies’ improbable 2007 run to the World Series. “I can remember Matt Holiday’s slide into home plate, the Rockies refusing to lose in September in making the playoffs and their long layoff before playing the (Boston) Red Sox in the World Series.” He has a good memory.

For the record that year, down the stretch the Rockies won 21 of 22 games to earn a playoff berth and spot in the World Series where they were swept by the boys from Beantown. It was an amazing example of the possibilities present when a group comes together, sets personal egos aside and works for the greater good.

We need to be like the 2007 Rockies and embrace the value of teamwork in resolving our social issues that have a nation on edge.

The importance of teamwork was emphasized 3,000 years ago from one of the world’s most recognized philosophers. King Solomon, considered one of the wisest person’s in recorded history, sounded a clarion call when he wrote about venturing too far from our native villages, offering: “One will be overpowered, two can defend themselves, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

It’s the spiritual foundation of the wellness outreach movement A Stronger Cord. Folks, it doesn’t matter if we’re black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street, we need to realize societal challenges of homelessness, poverty, income inequality or racism will only be solved collectively by investing time in one another.

The reminders, snapshots, come from nature, sports teams and historical figures. The venues change but the strategy is the same. Success in life is a team effort that recognizes race, religion and socio-economic differences as opportunities not obstacles to build a stronger cord to one another.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pep Talk: "Out Of This World Success"

“One of the cool things growing up was knowing all my buddies loved that my dad had a tank.” Priceless.

And one of many funny, poignant and heartwarming comments heard as your knucklehead scribe sat, with many others, for remembrance of Pierre (Pete) Guignon. Second son John Guignon’s eulogy wrapped up a beautiful funeral Mass for an 88-year-old man who left a lasting impression on everybody who ventured into his world.

I was lucky and blessed to know the collector of military vehicles, including a tank, for almost 40 years. Pierre’s oldest son, Pete Jr., “Re-Pete” to family, has been a dear friend since college days. Through that beautiful connection, yours truly grew to know the family well. Parkinson’s challenged a cherished buddy’s father, and a stroke terminated the respected man’s life. Nothing was, or will, EVER quench a spirit for living life to its fullest. That attitude is alive and well in five children, grandchildren and others the devoted husband influenced in a remarkable journey.

In encouraging audiences during live Pep Talk presentations, this aging jock sometimes tells the story of “Defining Our Dash.” We all have our days of birth and death. For a beloved Kansas City Chiefs’ fanatic named Pierre Jules Guignon they are January 3, 1928 and June 17, 2016. A man born in America’s Great Depression, passed, ironically while out to dinner celebrating 64 years of loving marriage to his amazing wife, Peggy. The numbers? 1928-2016. What about the dash? That’s where the real story lies. It’s one to exalt.

The successful salesman never met a stranger. The faithful man rose each morning and, first thing, dropped to knees in thankful prayer. The devout Catholic attended Mass daily until, in later years, Parkinson’s debilitating fallout made it difficult. His faith was unshakeable.

Grandkids called him “Papa.” He was an awesome family man. Adored. The Pierre and Peggy Guignon’s loving touch spread far beyond the kids, grandkids and great grand kids. It spread to goofs like me. For convenience in getting to a labor construction job, I spent an entire college summer crashing at their warm family pad in mid-town Kansas City. The Guignon’s welcomed me like a third son, including Peggy’s early-morning breakfast inquiries like, “Mac, why do you and Pete think it’s a good idea to stay out so late?” 

That’s a story for another day. Back to my buddy Pete’s father, Pierre. I could go on and on about what defined this man’s dash. It boils down to four qualities that would serve us well. The life-time Kansas City resident’s spirit oozed with devotion to faith, family, friends and fun. Impressive indeed.

These days, we know about airport security lines. They suck. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is trying to help with an alternative called “Pre-Check.” After paying for and passing a background check, we can zip through security rather quickly and avoid the frustration of long lines.

In terms of credentials, if getting into heaven is similar to getting on an airplane, the story behind our dash is important. What’s the background reveal? This much I know about Pierre’s. It will certainly flash in big neon lights: “PEARLY GATES PRE-CHECK!”

This week, let’s honor and emulate a man’s stellar effort and example. It may help us travel through life with similar, out-of-this world success!

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