Among the most resonant themes during the COVID-19 crisis has been overcoming challenges, and that's a topic that longtime Denver sports-media personalities Les Shapiro and Vic Lombardi understand very well. Shapiro has been battling lung cancer since 2018, and months later, Lombardi discovered he had prostate cancer.
Neither Shapiro nor Lombardi have let these diagnoses stop them, however — and their personal experiences inform We Are Unstoppable, a new podcast in which they and a slew of famous guests, including ubiquitous ESPN reporter Adam Schefter and Colorado-bred Olympic gold-medalist Missy Franklin, talk about the obstacles they've faced on the road to success.
According to Shapiro, "The show features inspiring interviews with high-profile people from the athletic world, the entertainment world and some of the most brilliant minds in medicine on how to be unstoppable in the face of adversity."
The medical element of We Are Unstoppable is key. The bi-monthly podcast is sponsored by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, whose experts add another layer of information to the package.
"Vic and I have very thick Rolodexes, so we're able to secure big names in sports and entertainment," Shapiro points out. "But as an epilogue, we're interviewing doctors at CU Anschutz to talk about what everybody just heard. For example, Missy Franklin, even when she was swimming, suffered from depression and anxiety and insomnia. So after talking to her, we talked to a doctor at Anschutz about the signs of depression, anxiety and insomnia — so we hit you with a double barrel."
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Shapiro relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona, in March, but he remains a patient at CU Anschutz, which he visited this week after an examination a week or two earlier offered an unpleasant surprise. "I was back in Denver to get a couple of CT scans, and they showed I've got three cancerous lymph nodes that are growing a little bit," he divulges. "There's a good chance they're going to tell me I'll need radiation to knock them out of my system."
To deal with his original cancer, "I had radiation every day for three weeks at the Anschutz Medical Campus and it came out nicely — so I'm not that worried about it," he continues. "I feel phenomenal. I've been going on rigorous hikes every other day in Scottsdale, and my appetite and sleep are great. I feel perfectly normal and then some."
Lombardi is also a patient at CU Anschutz, and Shapiro says their shared health conditions deepened a long-running friendship. "Vic was actually my intern at one point when I worked on Channel 4, and then he was my weekend anchor. I've known him since he was a college kid, and when he got the news about the prostate cancer, he tells me I was one of the first people he called, because he wanted to know what to expect from a societal standpoint — being inundated with phone calls and advice and texts. He wanted to know how to handle it."
Over the course of their treatment at CU Anschutz, Shapiro notes, he and Lombardi "have gotten to know people at the top of the food chain. So when we came up with the idea, we presented it to them and they loved it." The university is offering financial support for We Are Unstoppable, as well as raising awareness about the podcast on its social-media channels and beyond.
The subject of COVID-19 has cropped up regularly in early episodes, including the one co-starring Schefter, who's based in New York City, the national epicenter for the virus. But the pandemic had an effect even before production got under way.
"It's kind of funny, but both Vic and I needed to buy podcasting equipment so we could work from our homes," Shapiro recalls. "But Amazon was running short of podcasting equipment. Everybody is starting a podcast or holding Zoom or Houseparty meetings, and they all want headphones and pop filters and microphones and microphone stands. So they were out of stock when we made our orders, and we had to start about a week later than we planned because it took a few extra days for the equipment to get there."
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On the other hand, he notes, "A lot of people are available right now. Athletes aren't at the complex working out eight hours a day, and coaches aren't conducting practices for three or four hours and then holding meetings for another three or four hours. Outside of the NFL, those people don't have much to do, so they're more available to sit down in front of their computer or on their phone and talk with us than they might otherwise be."
Guests so far have included Matt Iseman, a comedian and co-host of American Ninja Warrior who's also a doctor with rheumatoid arthritis; Annabel Bowlen, who discusses her experiences with Alzheimer's by way of her namesake mother and father Pat Bowlen, former owner of the Denver Broncos; sportscaster Verne Lundquist, who deals with chronic back pain; ex-Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, a former alcoholic and bladder cancer survivor; and college-basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, who's been legally blind in one eye since a childhood accident.
Plenty of other conversational coups are in the offing, Shapiro teases, in part because "these people get to talk about things they don't usually talk about. When we first came up with the idea, I had two legal pads' worth of names from people who've had to fight through something or other and came out on the other end. It's the human condition: Everybody has to go through something, including people we admire for their athletic ability or their ability to entertain."
Click to learn how to listen and subscribe to We Are Unstoppable.