Figure Skating, Football, Death, and Rebirth
Release Date: 05/31/2021
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Can Death bring you back to Life?
If former NFL pro Dennis Franks’ story is any indication, then the answer is 100% yes. And his story is packed full of hard-won wisdom for becoming the people we were made to be and living the lives we were made to live.
First, Rabbit Trail to a Big Idea
I met Dennis Franks through a mutual friend--or even more accurately, a friend of my parents back when I was a little boy in Boone, NC. Serendipitously, Bonnie Church had gotten curious about what I was up to and looked me up online--where she found this podcast. And almost overnight, she became an unexpected, very welcome, and very generous source of encouragement and inspiration. She also happens to have co-written a book with Dennis and his good friend, former Philadelphia Eagle's teammate, Vince Papale. And Bonnie realized that Dennis' story was a good fit for Andrew Petty is Dying.
Which is how we ended up here today, with former pro football player-turned-network marketing success story, Dennis Franks, as the guest on this episode.
I share this backstory because it highlights a big idea that I think is useful for all of us to remember: When we commit to becoming the person we were made to be and living the life we were made to live, and we persevere in that work--as I've been trying to do through this podcast, for example--cool things happen--like getting reconnected with Bonnie and striking up a friendship with Dennis. That's the technical term, BTW--"cool things." Truth is, you never really know what will come of it all, but that's part of the adventure. And each new serendipitous moment creates the potential for more. It's the best kind of compounding interest.
Now, Back to the Program Already in Progress...
Dennis Franks is a primo example of someone who has persevered in becoming the person he was made to be and living the life he was made to live. Along the way, he found success and fame in the NFL, and he's achieved remarkable success in business post-football. But it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns. Far from it, in fact, and Dennis has fought tooth and nail for every bit of success he's attained and to learn the lessons available from his failures. And a close encounter with Mortality woke him up to what mattered most and kicked his butt in gear big-time after the fumes of football fame had dissipated.
We dig into all of that and more in this interview. The internet can give you a version of Dennis' story--and it's one that's available to anyone who cares to type in "Dennis Franks" in the Google search window. But I was especially interested in the REST of the story. What's Dennis Franks really all about? What makes him tick? How does an encounter with Mortality impact a man who, for a while at least, seemed to have it all?After all of his ups and downs, moments of fame and seasons of ridicule, what wisdom for life does he have to offer to all of us?
To set the stage, though, here's the cliff’s notes version of what can be learned online about Dennis.
Introducing Dennis Franks, Interwebs-style
From humble beginnings in Pittsburgh--the son of a steelworker and a German figure skating champion--Dennis had a noteworthy college football career at Michigan and went on to 5 years in the NFL, first with the Philadelphia Eagles, then with the Detroit Lions. Along with Vince Papale, about whose story the film Invincible was made with Mark Wahlberg in the starring role, Dennis had a hand in setting the Eagles up for their first superbowl appearance in 1981. A rough patch after football was followed by Dennis' discovery of the world of network marketing, a business he has excelled at ever since. In fact, early on he became one of the few to earn over $1 Million in annual commissions through a home-based business. Today, Dennis is executive vice president of Market America Worldwide, a product brokerage and internet marketing company that specializes in one-to-one marketing and social shopping. Market America provides a system for entrepreneurs to supplement their income and gives customers a better way to shop.
Dennis' book, The Last Laugh: Vision to Victory outlines seven keys to making your dream a reality--Vision, Valor, Vehemence, Veracity, Vitality, Vigor, and Victory--and illustrates them at work through his and Vince's stories and firsthand accounts from the likes of Dick Vermeil, Jim Harbaugh, and others who have had extraordinary success in their fields. Like Dennis, The Last Laugh is direct, no BS, imminently practical, and full of wisdom. If you want to get from here to there, The Last Laugh will help you. It's helped me.
Dennis and his wife, Nancy, live near Charlotte, NC. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.
A Date with Death
The entry point into our conversation was an episode in Dennis’ story back in the 80s that changed the course of his life forever. Dennis’ “15 minutes of fame” as a 5-year NFL pro are over. He’s discovering that a resume of “moving people for a living” doesn’t automatically land you a good job, and he’s begun to move in some unhealthy circles where partying hard was a way of life, not just a for-fun kind of thing.
One day, after a 36-hour, cocaine-infused bender, Dennis found himself staring Death in the face. He literally felt like his heart was going to explode. A good friend--now his wife, Nancy--stayed with him until his body began to resume more normal functioning. But the impact of that experience was there to stay. Here’s Dennis in his own words:
“It was a huge change in my life...resetting, almost, and trying to understand that I had something to live for, and not to be this waste. Don't be that one-and-done star, and now that you can't have that anymore, it's over. It couldn't be, because I was 29 years old, and I had a lot of years left to live. That was a critical time for me...Everything changed because of that near-death experience. There was a realization that there had to be more.”
Amazingly, Dennis dropped his cocaine addiction cold-turkey and began to re-learn how to live. As a 300lb. single guy with no job, he had to fundamentally rewire his relationship with food and alcohol. Physical wellness became priority numero uno. Since then, Dennis has returned to and maintained his high school playing weight, and physical wellness is a top priority--and shows up in the Victor’s Code as Vigor and Vitality.
Gradually, Dennis’ life-saving encounter with Death and the wholesale life renovation that followed led him into the world of network marketing. But one more unexpected speed bump was just up ahead.
The Past Comes Back to Haunt Him
After being clean for seven years, the FBI paid Dennis a visit out of the blue:
“I was making it in life, and I was handcuffed and taken out of my office in Monterey, CA, only to go to court back in Philadelphia because my name was in the dealer's book when he got busted. And the DA in Philadelphia said "here's a Philadelphia Eagle that might be able to spill on other Philadelphia Eagles. Let's go after him." And the scariest part of this was, they wanted to give me 15 years; they were going after maximum sentence. And I'm going, are you kidding me, I've been clean for almost seven years and you're coming back to me with a conspiracy to distribute?”
Dennis was fortunate to ultimately receive only a one-year sentence of community service and stays at a halfway house every weekend. And he learned sobering lessons about the importance of the choices we make, the environments we put ourselves in, and the people we surround ourselves with.
Wisdom from the Figure-Skating Son of a Steelworker
We rewound the tape farther back in Dennis’ story to his childhood, where we explored how figure skating entered the picture and why it exited suddenly when he entered high school, the impact of his childhood--and especially his father--on the man he’s become today, and where his immense passion and drive for everything he undertakes came from.
Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom that emerged from the rest of the conversation:
- “In life, it's so important to always have people around you that care about YOU, who you are, people who are better than me. I'm not afraid to be the person who doesn't know everything. I prefer to be the person who can learn everything on a daily basis.”
- “I want people to understand that you're not born a superstar. It's a choice to utilize your God-given talents. Are you willing to spend the time to become what you were meant to be? So many people don't have that vision. That's a big part of that vision to victory concept, because I want everyone to realize--you can if you believe you can, and if you're willing to do the things necessary to make that happen.”
- “Winners never lose, they just learn.”
- “There is no balance in success.”
- “I believe in taking calculated risks...I'm not asking you to be foolish, but I am asking you to take a calculated risk so you can be all-in once you make the decision. The reason people fail is because they don't go all-in because they're afraid of failing. A calculated risk to me is somebody who has weighed out the best-case / worst-case. And if you can deal with the worst-case, why not go full-on? And if you don't go full-on, then you really didn't want it anyway, and it's not gonna happen.” (This nugget emerged from our discussion of football as a metaphor for life--really fun and enlightening part of the conversation.)
- And tune into the full episode to hear:
- Dennis’ advice for how to find your Path and Purpose in life…
- How he measures success now, at 67…
- And his response to the question, “If you knew you were going to die in exactly five years, what would you start doing differently today?”
Landing the Plane
Fear gets a bad rap. We're always trying to overcome it or get rid of it. But if Dennis' story is any indicator, then the value of fear is hard to deny. The fear of Death--maybe even more specifically, the fear of not living the life he was capable of living--motivated Dennis to quit cocaine cold-turkey after a season of aimlessness post-football and turn his life around. That watershed moment set him on a very different path than the self-destructive one he'd been headed down. I'd call fear a literal lifesaver in Dennis' case, not an enemy to be overcome.
And as Dennis said in the full episode, if you're willing to face your fears, you can get through them. Lise Leroux rang the same bell in episode 006, The Nine Lives of Lise Leroux: One Woman's Mind-blowing Tale of Living With a Terminal Diagnosis. I think a key to tapping into fear's potential power in our lives is teaching ourselves to become its boss. I unpack that further in episoe 005, How to Become the Boss of Your Fear: Bravery-building to Live With More Guts and Gusto. And that's precisely what Dennis did--he summoned the courage to overhaul himself from the inside-out when an encounter with Mortality filled him with fear. He's been looking ahead and pushing ahead in life ever since.
What a gift that fear was to Dennis!
Making Dennis’ Story Relevant in YOUR Story
Are you holding back in life--not going all-in, as Dennis said--because of some fear or another? Take a page from Dennis' playbook. Consider the best and worst-case scenarios. And if you can deal with the worst-case scenario, then why not go all-in? On their deathbeds, people regret not going for it far more than they regret mistakes made when they did go for it. And the world needs YOU bringing your very best into the game of life, full-tilt, all-in, charging ahead with guts, gusto, and purpose to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live.
And remember, you are going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
I Can Help
I can help you charge ahead with guts, gusto, and purpose to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live. Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me.
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