Mark McIntosh was about to graduate from high school and head to the professional baseball draft. Then, a freak accident instantly ended his sports career. Mark would spend the years that followed “drowning his sorrows”.
With time and after completing graduate school, Mark became a sportscaster on CBS4 in Denver for close to two decades. He then went on to co-host Colorado and Company on Denver’s 9News. After two decades on TV, the demand for online media was outpacing the demand for television, and Mark found himself again needing to rebuild and transform his life.
Today, Mark owns and runs Victory Productions, an organization that helps people overcome obstacles and persevere through life’s challenges. He has helped 10s of 1000s of people through his speaking engagements, books and website. For the last year and a half, he has also worked with the Denver Rescue Mission, a Denver based organization that helps the homeless return “to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens.”
Mark spends about four hours a week with Denver’s homeless doing everything from a chapel service to most recently, starting A Stronger Cord, an organization that rebuilds the physical fitness of Denver’s homeless.
Here is a bit of his story:
Can you talk about the accident that ended your athletic career?
I was running down the floor in a high school basketball game and a teammate threw me a pass. I was running, looking over my shoulder, to catch the ball, and a guy on the other team lunged and accidentally, poked me in the eye.
It drove my eyeball deep into my brain which led to a rapid loss of blood pressure. I was staggering across the floor, and I couldn’t see a thing. I just blacked out, and I collapsed on my whole upper left side. I don’t remember any of this, but I was laying there in a pool of blood, in seizure. I fractured my skull, suffered a severe concussion, which today they would call a traumatic brain injury. I broke all my bones in my ear that control my equilibrium, I tore up my left rotator cup, and now I am deaf in my left ear from hitting the floor.
I couldn’t judge fly balls and I couldn’t throw anymore. My baseball career was over. And football wise, given the severity of my head injury, they didn’t think it was a good idea to play, so suddenly my athletic career was over – because of a freak poke in the eye.
Tell me how you decided to start with Denver’s homeless population.
I started Victory Productions 10 years ago and the whole mission was to encourage others to achieve goals and overcome challenges.
My heart goes out to these guys, and I just think somebody has to help them get back on their feet. When I have had set backs in my life, whether it was physically when my athletic career ended, whether it is was emotionally when my marriages ended in divorce, or whether it has been financially when my jobs in the media world were eliminated; there were always people around to encourage me, and I am just returning the favor.
There are a lot of communities trying to overcome hardships that have been dealt a bad set of cards. What appeals to you about helping Denver’s homeless?
After I was hurt and in college as an undergrad, I was feeling sorry for myself, so I basically drank myself into oblivion. I drowned my sorrows about why my life was not going the way I wanted it to. I wouldn’t remember driving home, but I would go out the next morning and my car was still running.
At 56, I look at these guys, of all ages, who I work with, and I just believe there is a certain percentage, I don’t know, I would say 30 to 40% of them that are not suffering from severe mental illness; they are suffering from mental anguish. They don’t have a job. They got a DUI. They spent a little time in jail, and then they get out of jail and no one wants them around, and they can’t find work. They are not bad guys, I believe, the majority of them. They are good people that have made bad decisions. They are just down on their luck. I just think I am being called to help them.
Are there common reasons for homelessness?
I believe there is. If the homeless issue is a pie there is a certain slice of the pie that unfortunately, being institutionalized is probably what is best for them and society, but I think there is a second slice of these guys that are on the fence. There are some that might have mental illness but probably most just have mental anguish. Then there is a third slice of the pie where these guys are just down on their luck and we need to rebuild their spirit, rebuild their network and rebuild their physical fitness.
Which is why you are now working out with them?
Some of the things that hamper their recovery is they have been neglecting their bodies, and they are susceptible to getting sick. Last week was the first time we were went boxing with them – it was the first time in so long that they had a good sweat. It was the first time where they could just be dudes in the locker room. There was a whole different spirit amongst them.
You take them back to a time where they had hope. These guys need hope in their lives. They need their networks rebuilt because so many of these guys have been ostracized from their families. Hopefully, once they take responsibility and ownership for their lives, we can help them re-build their networks, and we can re-integrate them into their families, their communities and the workforce.
Do you find yourself wondering “What if?” What if I was just six inches away from this guy’s finger? What if? What if? What if?
I think that “What If?” game is what led to me feeling sorry for myself and the heavy drinking as a youngster. Not all of these people that are homeless play the “What If” game, but I think a lot of them do and the next you know they are addicted, they have lost their jobs and their families have kicked them out.
It is rare that I meet someone whose life has gone exactly as planned. Every time I speak to people I ask if anybody has ever had life go exactly as planned, and of the 10s of 1000s of people I have spoken to, I have had two or three people raise their hand. We all have this roller coaster of life. We can turn those Lemons into Margaritas. We can still ride this roller coaster and get to the end successfully. That is why I do this – to encourage other people to persevere.
In the year and a half you have been working with them, have you seen improvements?
What are the qualifications for being in your program?
Since we are working with recovery agencies, it is mandatory that they are sober. That is the really important piece to this puzzle. The stipulation of being at Salvation Army, Denver Rescue Mission or Step 13 is that you are sober.
What triggers a homeless person to say, “I don’t want to be addicted anymore. I don’t want to be using anymore. I want a better life.” It seems it would be so difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel in a situation as challenging as theirs.
All of the guys we are working with are tied to recovery agencies, and they have already indicated that they believe there is a chance for a better day. They are trying. What we are bringing in with A Stronger Cord is the fitness piece.
I am a big fan of what King Solomon said, “One may be overpowered. Two can defend themselves but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” If we are helping these guys get stronger in their lives – mentally, spiritually and physically – that is a strong cord that is not easily broken, and I think we can get them back on their feet.
I think there is a general perception that, even the homeless people who want help because of funding and budgets and priorities that the help is not available. Is that true?
Sure you would love to be able to throw more money at the situation, but I think more than anything else, I think you need to take a different look at exactly how we are treating homelessness.
Why men? Why not men and women? Why not families?
I think that is where I am being called to do it with this program. I speak to women’s groups frequently. I love working with families. Families benefit when men go back to them in healthy and productive ways. We are sending families different men. We are getting men to take responsibility for their lives.
What would you say to the common argument that the homeless are lazy? That they should just get a job? Get a job at McDonald’s?
I would say that these guys have lost hope. They can’t hold down a regular job right now. They get together with their buddies, get high, get drunk, don’t show up to work and get fired.
A very common site around Denver is the person with the sign looking for a handout. Do you recommend people give them money?
No, I don’t. There are so many recovery agencies in town that I think can help these people. Sometimes I roll down the window and ask if they have ever heard of the Denver Rescue Mission. I don’t give them money.
What, in your opinion, is a day in the life of a homeless person at the Denver Rescue Mission?
Little sleep, lots of hard work keeping the facility clean and attending a variety of meetings designed to build strength of mind and spirit. They are busy.
An interesting thing I have witnessed lately and see discussed on Facebook, is people who appear to be homeless, asking for money with a cell phone in their hands. Where are they getting the money for this?
From people who give it to them. Standing on the street corner daily collecting money can usually net
folks enough cash to afford a phone. They know where to get fed so don’t usually spend too much money on food. I don’t give money but roll down my window and refer the folks to Denver Rescue Mission.
If people did want to help Denver’s homeless, what can they do?
We would love guys that are fitness minded to get involved as an associate of the program [A Stronger Cord]. The foundation of this program is working out with them; getting to know them and helping them rebuild their network. We would love guys in the community to help.
With these gyms we can’t use them for nothing, so fundraising is also a part of it.
Also, maybe people know agencies we haven’t been in contact with or gym owners who would like to host us that would be great. There are a lot of different ways people can get involved.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
You have to understand the importance of coming together and working out as part of the holistic approach to this. I am just hoping that agencies out there, dedicated to helping people in recovery will want to walk beside us, as will gyms and the general public either by being participants, supporting it or giving us suggestions on how to make it better.