Our guest this week is Frank McKinney of Delray Beach, FL a father, real estate artist, eight time best-selling author, philanthro-capitalist & 12 time badwater135 ultramarathon competitor.
Frank and his wife Nilsa have been married for 33 years and are the proud parents of Laura (24). Professionally, Frank has built and renovated 44 ocean-front mansions with an average selling price of $44M. He is known as a real artist with a flair for creating these one of a kind master pieces and for the way he markets them.
Frank is also the best-selling author of eight books in 5 different genres. In reverse chronologicle order they are:
- Adversitology: Overcoming Adversity When You’re Hanging On By A Thread (March 2023)
- Aspire: How To Create Your Own Reality And Alter Your DNA (November 2021)
- The Other Thief: A Collision Of Love, Flesh & Faith (September 2018)
- The Tap (February 2009)
- Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes And The Good Luck Circle (January 2009)
- Burst This!: Frank McKinney’s Bubble Proof Real Estate Strategies (February 2009)
- Frank McKinney’s Maverick Approach To Real Estate Success: How You Can Go From A $50,000 Fixer-Upper To A $100M Mansion (April 2006)
- Make It Big: 49 Secrets For Building A Life Of Extreme Success (January 2002)
Frank is also a self described philanthro-capitalist and co-founder of the Caring House Project, a 501c3 non-profit organization, which has built 30 self-sustaining villages serving 13K children and their families in Haiti over the past 20 years. Each of the villages has 50 homes, a daycare center, community center, school, clinic and church.
On a personal level Frank is a runner and has competed in a number of races including 12 Badwater135 ultramarathons, finishing seven times. The Badwater135, which takes place annually in July in the scorching summer heat in Death Valley, CA is described by National Geographic as ‘the world’s toughest footrace.’
Also, in 2020 Frank was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), which was a near death experience. One of the techniques Frank used to overcome this life threating disease was to disidentify it.
While Frank is not a parent of a child with special needs, he has a lot to offer parents and specifically dads on how to overcome adversity.
It’s a fascinating story and it’s here on this week’s episode of the SFN Dad To Dad Podcast.
Show Links –
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/frank-mckinney-b4a14332/
Website – https://www.frank-mckinney.com/
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SFN Mentor Fathers share their experiences with younger dads closer to the beginning of their journey raising a child with the same or similar special needs. The SFN Mentor Fathers do NOT offer legal or medical advice, that is what lawyers and doctors do. They simply share their experiences and how they have made the most of challenging situations.
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Frank McKinney: That you need to go against the grain. You need to not be afraid to take risk in life. When we would be in an airport and there was some moving sidewalks, David, I would have her go down the opposite direction of the sidewalk because that’s how life is. It’s always coming at you. It’s always telling you, you can’t do this. Little girl, you’re gonna get hurt. Little girl, you’re on the wrong side. That’s life. Until she finally said, dad, I’m too old to do this, I had her walk down the opposite direction of moving sidewalks.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, author, ace real estate developer and ultra-marathoner, Frank McKinney. In addition to starting a whole slew of successful real estate ventures, Frank has also developed many self-sustaining villages in Haiti, providing homes and schools for over 13,000 Haitians. We’ll hear all about this amazing man and his work in this first installment of a two-part interview. So say hello now to the founder of the Special Fathers Network and the host of the Dad to Dad Podcast, a man who has literally just bicycled across the country, here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network, a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Thank you to those who supported the 21st Century Dads Dads Honor Ride 2023 campaign, which was a 3000-plus mile bicycle race from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. I was one of the four racers and it took us seven days, 19 hours, and 10 minutes to go from coast to coast. Special thanks to the following donors for contributing $1,000 or more. In alphabetical order, they are: Kim Duchossois, Jim Duran, Chaz Ebert, John Guido, Horizon Therapeutics, Scott Marcotte, Damien Navarro, Dick Reck, Barbara and Glenn Reed, Rotary Club of Chicago, Don Stadler, Nick Topicha-Dolny, and UBS Financial Services.
If you’ve not yet contributed, please do so by visiting 21stCenturyDads.org. Your tax-deductible contribution will help keep our programs free to all concerned.
Tom Couch: So let’s hear this intriguing conversation now between Frank McKinney and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Frank McKinney of Delray Beach, Florida, a modern day Renaissance man. Frank is known as a real estate artist who created and sold 44 ocean front mansions on spec with an average price of $14 million. A self-described philanthro-capitalist, Frank has built 30 self-sustaining villages in Haiti during the last 20 years, providing 13,000+ children and their families with homes, schools, clinics, community centers, churches, renewable food, and clean water, as well as the means to support themselves.
Frank is also a bestselling author, eight books and counting, an actor and a keynote speaker. Physically, Frank has pushed himself and his body by racing in the BADWATER 135 Ultramarathon 12 times in the scorching summer heat in Death Valley, a race referred to by National Geographic as “the world’s toughest foot race.” Frank, thank you for doing a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Frank McKinney: Well, you know, I’ve done hundreds of podcasts and when yours came across the desk that relates to fatherhood, the roles of men, the roles of grandfathers and fathers. I love talking about that because the happiest years of my life have been raising my only child, my daughter. I never get a chance to talk about that. We talk about all the other stuff you just said. We always go into that and I love doing that and we’ll touch on that, but man, my little girl who’s not little anymore, she’s 24, is everything to me, so thank you for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Nilsa have been married for 33 years. You’re the proud parents of daughter Laura, 24, who’s a graduate of Penn State University, who lives in New York City and is founder of StrataBrand, a public relations and special events company. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Frank McKinney: My background. I’m just a corn-fed country boy from Indiana. I grew up in Carmel, Indiana. I’m the oldest of six. My father was a banker, my mother was a school teacher for the first two children, and then she was a stay-at-home mom. I went to four high schools in four years and no, my father was not in the military. It was because I was asked to leave one after the other. I finally graduated from a high school that was run by Benedictine monks. Like I went to class and my teachers wore hoods and robes tied together with ropes. It was a reform school. I spent seven different stints in juvenile detention between the ages of 14 and 17. I realized when I was 18, you don’t go to juvenile detention. You stop going to kindergarten, you go to the big house. So I turned things around there. And I hopped on a plane with a $50 bill and a one-way plane ticket when I was 18 from Carmel, Indiana, for the sunny beaches of south Florida.
David Hirsch: Well, that is an amazing start. So let’s just agree that you were not academic oriented when you were a young person.
Frank McKinney: If I go back now, I don’t know if it was that I wasn’t academic oriented, meaning I had the capability. There was nothing that interested me except for two subjects, actually three. One would be creative writing. I loved creative writing and writing in general. I loved math because I knew someday I was gonna be counting a lot of money and I needed to be good at math. And I loved my jewelry class. I love making jewelry! [laughing] The others I just didn’t really care much for. Thank God for those first two because, David, without those I would’ve had a 0.8 GPA.
David Hirsch: [laughing] Okay. Thanks for your humility. So let’s go back to your dad. You mentioned he is a banker and I know that you come from an athletic family and I’m wondering if there’s some more that we should know about your dad.
Frank McKinney: My father was a three-time Olympic medalist. He won one of each composition, a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal in the ’60 Olympics, and he held the world record in the backstroke that he set in 1960 that stood for 22 years, which is amazing. At a very young age he was a superstar, and when he came home to Indiana as a gold medalist, silver medalist, bronze medalist, that man walked on water. And not just on that side of the family from my father, but from my mother’s side my grandfather played for the Chicago Cardinals that became the Chicago Bears. So we were a very athletic family. And me growing up, after a little deviation into getting into trouble, I was a tennis instructor, a tennis pro, and I played competitively on the circuit. So yeah, my dad was a huge influence on athletics being an important part of my life. And I think it was athletics, David, that pulled me out from that delinquency, that juvenile, that tendency to get in trouble, cuz I really leaned into that ability to play. You name the sport, you put the ball in my hand, I could do it. I didn’t ever want to box, but other than that I could play everything.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Frank McKinney: My dad’s been gone since 1992 and he was killed in a midair plane crash on 9/11/92 if you can believe that. 9/11 in our family is a rough day. Not THE 9/11, but any 9/11. The McKinney family 9/11. So we’re talking 30 years now, 31 years.
I will be honest. It was very strained. I’m Frank McKinney III. He’s Frank McKinney Jr. He was a stereotypical banker. 16 of the same suits in his closet with 16 of the same wingtip shoes and the white shirt. And we butted heads. We could do well for two or three days and then after that… Very strong-willed man, and he raised a very strong-willed son. And I have no regrets over my relationship because I always tried to mend the differences all the way up until two days before he hopped on that plane and passed in that crash, I was always trying to mend our relationship.
David Hirsch: Yeah well, tragic end to his life. Very abrupt. And how old would he have been back in 1992?
Frank McKinney: He was 53.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Frank McKinney: Yeah. David, I used to think that was old. This year I will be seven years older than him and yet the things he taught me… I remember being in trouble often as a teenager, and he would sit me down in my room. Now, back in this would be maybe the late seventies or the eighties. I’m in trouble. We now have earbuds, plural. Back then you had one jack that you could plug into your stereo and put into one ear. So I had longer hair back then too. And I remember here we go again. I’m gonna hear this speech about, you need turn your life around. And I’d put the jack in my ear and I’d turn on my heavy metal music or whatever. But David, one ear was open and one ear was listening to what my father was saying and the things he told me. “Organization is the key to success.” It’s one of the chapters in one of my books. “Frank,” or he called me Mickey. “Mickey, 98% of you is off the charts. Your ability to succeed in this business called life at anything anywhere is off the charts. It’s the 2% that’s gonna get you in trouble.” And man, those things just resonate with me. The lessons I heard through the ear that I didn’t know was open, that didn’t have the little jack, the little earbud in it, were priceless. And a lot of those I actually regurgitate in Aspire!, my book.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I know that each of us rebels at a certain age from what our parents have to say. They just seem like they’re the stupidest people on the planet, and I don’t think you know it at the time, but you can only look backwards and connect those dots or understand. They love you. They were looking out for your best interest, and they’re just concerned, right? That you weren’t utilizing your God gifted talents. And it’s too bad that he didn’t live long enough to see some of the things that you were able to accomplish. That’s my way of thinking about it.
Frank McKinney: And if you were to lay me out on a couch and you were a therapist asking, why do you wear the clothes you wear? Why do you wear your hair the way you wear your hair? I think you can turn the dial all the way back to those conversations where I was just screaming for his attention. I wanted his attention. He was a high profile guy and a workaholic in Indiana. I admired the high profile. So therefore, I wanted that in my life, but I did not want the workaholic. I didn’t want to leave my children or child the way he would leave us. I don’t mean leave us, but he wouldn’t pay attention to the six of us like I wanted a dad to do. And so part of the persona that has been created over the years is anti-Frank McKinney Jr. The way that he looks. And also very much anti the way that I chose to spend time with my daughter. I’m not knocking my father. Either you absorb tendencies and traits and DNA from your parents and you amplify them — in other words, they’re even greater than what you were exposed to — or you go the complete opposite way. I amplified his success genes, of course, and his work ethic. But I ran the opposite way when it came to spending time with my family. Meaning I wanted to spend more time with my family.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Another way I think about it is the pendulum swings one way, like you were describing with your dad, and now it’s swinging the other way.
Frank McKinney: Yes.
David Hirsch: You’re emulating a lot of the good things that your dad did, and maybe you can live vicariously through some of the things that you didn’t want to repeat yourself in your own fathering.
Frank McKinney: This is very true.
David Hirsch: Laura is the beneficiary of all that. I think she’s the beneficiary.
Frank McKinney: Yep. Thank you.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about some other father influencers before we move on. And I’m curious to know what, if any, relationship you had with your grandfather’s, first on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side.
Frank McKinney: Both of them passed pretty early, David. Both my grandfathers were gone by the time I was about 10. But the fact that I was old enough to understand that my grandfather on my dad’s side started out as a bank messenger. Not even in an automobile. He was on a bicycle. Never graduated beyond seventh grade. And he went from a bank messenger riding around in Indianapolis, to being a bank president, to being the chairman of this bank. And he was also the Democratic National Chairman for Harry Truman. Talk about a Horatio Alger story. Until he passed… You know, at 10, you’re so impressionable. In his house he was royalty. You were in the presence of royalty but not a snobbery. He was a very humble man.
My mom’s side, my grandfather, same thing. They passed around the same time before I was 10. He was very quiet. When he would recount the stories of his athletic career. I thought, man this is something. And that got me into tennis. I wanted to be a competitive tennis player.
Freud and other psychiatrists say that our core personalities are formed between the ages of four and 12. So who David is, who Frank is, and who the listener is, in all likelihood, if you’re over 12, you are who you are for the rest of your life. Your core personality has been formed already. And it was in those early years sitting with those men, including my father, that formed my core personality.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It sounds like there’s some good family roots there. That’s what I hear you saying. With your dad’s dad, who was very accomplished, brought himself up from what most people would call the mail room, but maybe even outside the mail room in his day if he’s a bank messenger on a bicycle all the way up to the C-suite. And the success that they had in various aspects of their lives. So you had some amazing role models. It’s unfortunate they didn’t live longer, but that you did get to know them, right? That’s a blessing that you got to know your grandparents.
Frank McKinney: Yes.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering if there’s any father figures, an individual or two, that stand out that influenced you, either as a young guy or perhaps as a young adult for that matter.
Frank McKinney: One of my primary mentors in life for 20 years was a gentleman by the name of Rich DeVos. And for those of you who don’t know who Rich is, he was the co-founder of Amway. He was the 65th richest person in the world with the time of his death. I don’t say that to impress you. I say that to impress upon you that a man like that who had those kind of riches was the one who taught me how to dovetail my professional and my spiritual highest calling. He was the one who taught me that God blesses us materially for a reason other than merely to put more cars in our garage, clothes in our closet, and food in our pantry. I cherished every time, every moment I got to spend with him. He would be as close as I would have come to a surrogate father or father figure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I didn’t know him, but knew of him. It’s hard not to, if you’re in business, not to be aware of the Amway story and the amazing success, not only from a financial perspective. He stood out in the corporate world. Again, not knowing him personally, but just knowing of him because of his outspoken nature about his spirituality. He wore it on his sleeve. Not evangelizing, but just being a man of deep faith and trying to connect his wealth and his values. That’s what my understanding of Rich DeVos was.
So you and Nilsa have been married for 33 years, and I’m curious to know how did the two of you meet?
Frank McKinney: I was still a tennis instructor, just getting into flipping crack houses. Not cracked foundation, but crack cocaine. These were drug houses.
David Hirsch: [laughing]
Frank McKinney: And I was doing these $50,000-$100,000 houses. We had an office in the same building. Now, Nilsa mind you was an interior designer. Very well-established, doing the inside of yachts and jets, personal jets, and of course, mansions. I had bought this really rough house in a really bad part of town and I thought this is a way to get to know this woman who’s way out of my league, WAY out of my league. And so I saw her and I asked her out a bunch of times. She said, no, I’m not interested. I would come into the office in my tennis shorts, David, I was still teaching tennis, putting food on the table. So back in the eighties, tennis shorts were really short, and she was dressed up like a princess or a queen, or a movie star. And she just kept saying no.
So finally I said, okay, you know what? And I’m 24 years old. I said, you know what? I need an interior designer on this house I just bought. Could you take a look at it? She’s very stoic. She’s just very serious and she still is pretty much to this day. She says listen, I’ll look at it, but I need $500 retainer. You have to understand back then when I’m doing crack houses, $500 is basically my whole budget to renovate the house. It’s really close to everything I set aside to do.
So I said, okay. I gave her the retainer. She gets in the car. Matter of fact, she drove. She wanted to be in control. We get to the house. She turns over to her lock, she locks the doors. I hear them lock down because it was in a rough neighborhood. She turned to me and said, “You don’t need an interior designer. You need a bulldozer.” And I was a jerk back then. I said, “Hey babe, okay, that’s fine. Let’s go get some drinks or something.” “I don’t date my clients.” “Then you’re fired.” [David laughing] “Fine. I still won’t go out with you, but I’m gonna keep your $500 cuz you took my time to come out here.”
Man, I am losing all around. Finally, after another couple weeks of just not giving up, she said, “I will go to lunch with you.” And I can tell you that on August 5th, 1987, 8/5/87, so for everybody listening, you now know my passcode to everything, [laughing] we went out on our first date and it was just so wonderful. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was so nervous. I was… You gotta understand back then, I had huge 1980s hair. I was driving a Mercedes 450SL where the whole backseat was speakers. It was all speakers. And I come screeching around the corner with some Van Halen blasting and I was 30 minutes late. She was on her way out the door. She was gonna leave. Something made her stay and turn around and the rest has been a wonderful…
In Aspire! I talk about being able to marry your guardian angel. It’s a chapter in my book. There’s a whole section that talks about your love life. And being able to marry your guardian angel was one of the greatest blessings God ever gave me, cuz without her in my life, I can assure you I would be living in a trailer park in West Virginia smelling like motor oil, chewing tobacco, married to the bearded lady in the circus. That’s how important she was to me.
David Hirsch: [laughing] Yeah, I love that story. Thanks for sharing. I do remember, I can’t remember which book it was, but she did describe being married to you as a rollercoaster ride and being like on a SpaceX.
Frank McKinney: Yeah, it’s a funny description. It’s in Aspire! It’s something like being on a rollercoaster inside of a spaceship, inside of a blender on high speed, and then they turn off gravity, right? And the whole thing just goes careening off into the universe. That’s a daily existence.
There’s this chapter in Aspire! that talks about the significance of a significant other. That’s the title of the chapter. And in life and in business, you are who you choose to spend your life with. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re gonna spend your life with somebody, or part of your life with somebodies, plural. And her influence on my life, as I said, I would probably, that was a long description today. I’d probably be dead instead of in that trailer park, married to the bearded lady. Yeah, it just… We’ve had our fair share, of course, over 33 years of pressure, but there’s another chapter that says relationship pressure creates diamonds. So either in a relationship, the pressure that is inevitable, the valleys that are inevitable, is gonna crush the union or it’s gonna create the diamond. And we chose to allow it to create the diamonds.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. So let’s switch gears. You know that the podcast is directed at families, specifically dads, raising children with special needs. And I’m wondering, do you or Nilsa have any connection to the disability or special needs community?
Frank McKinney: We do. There’s an organization in South Florida called The Miracle League, and I’ve emceed a couple of their events. It is an organization that is a baseball league for kids with special needs. And seeing these kids go out on this baseball field and play cuz they don’t get to play. They’re not invited to play, they can’t play on a regular team. And the disabilities range from wheelchair-bound to just slightly disabled. Matter of fact, the slightly disabled will help the wheelchair-bound. And watching the couple, the Cadells, that founded that Miracle League has…. [heavy sigh] You say you count your blessings because your child isn’t like that. But these parents and the love that you see on that field is unlike anything I’ve witnessed until I get to heaven. It’s just the purest form of love that I’ve ever seen in my life. And so being connected with that has been very special to both of us.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. Miracle League, the concept is in a lot of different communities around the US, providing youth typically with special needs, intellectual and physical disability, with an opportunity to engage in sports, baseball being one of those. And it’s very inclusive. You’re getting into very fertile territory as far as witnessing unconditional love.
Frank McKinney: Yep.
David Hirsch: The innocence of these individuals and the hearts, just huge hearts. It’s really special. But thanks for sharing.
Frank McKinney: Sure.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey, will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: I am gonna switch gears and talk about what you’ve identified as your five life aspirations and then try to discuss each of these. I don’t know if this would be in the order that you might rank them, but family being one, the real estate experience that you’ve had as a real estate artist. Third is some of the physical challenges that you’ve been able to pursue mostly around ultramarathons, the BADWATER 135 specifically. You’ve done some amazing work overseas in the name of the Caring House Project Foundation in Haiti. And then I’d like to talk about the books. Not all eight of them, but pick a few of them that I’m more familiar with and take a little bit deeper dive.
So you mentioned that you’re a father, you have an adult daughter, and family being one of the most important aspects. You’ve already touched on that, drafting off of your own experience with your dad and your grandfather’s. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the importance of families?
Frank McKinney: There really is. I don’t know how much time we have, but I really think it’s important that we spend a lot of time on this topic, not just because it’s really your… This is what it’s about – dads. So I didn’t have a great family relationship. Let’s just leave it at that. So I wanted what I didn’t really have as a child. That’s why it’s one of my five aspirations. And we waited eight years to have our daughter because I wanted to be in a position, David, to take her to a park at 11:00 AM on a Tuesday and not worry about a boss barking at me to get back to work. I wanted to be financially secure so that I could take the time necessary to be with my daughter the way maybe I wasn’t with my father.
So let’s fast forward to having her, and then she goes to school. Her first day of school, I walk her to school. It was very special, which is something that we lived eight blocks from the school. Her legs are tiny. She’s four years old or five years old at the time, and it takes us quite a long time to walk that far cuz her little steps are quite small.
David, the happiest years of my life, for 10 years from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, I walked my daughter to school every single day. 1,652 consecutive walks to school. Now, I was sick a couple times and I was out of town, but my wife walked her on the days when I was unable to, meaning my daughter never sat in the backseat of a car for 10 years to go to school. That streak and those times together resulted in my young reader fantasy novel, Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes and the Good Luck Circle. It was such cherished time. So when we would build these villages in Haiti, which we’ll get to in a minute, I brought my daughter to those villages starting when she was six years old. I wanted to make sure she saw, cause we were doing well. She’s an only child. I saw a lot of rich, spoiled kids in south Florida. Me exposing her to the poorest country in the western hemisphere and how children live there. Their soccer balls were skulls! They were kicking around skulls on a soccer field! That base that I gave her, my wife and I gave her, she’s not a spoiled child. She did very well at Penn State as president of the whole student body. She was a great leader.
The last thing about family, I will tell you is I always taught my daughter that you need to go against the grain. You need to not be afraid to take risk in life. And in one of my books, I believe it was the Aspire! book, I talked about when we would be in an airport and there was the moving sidewalks, David, I would have her go down the opposite direction of the sidewalk because that’s how life is. It’s always coming at you. It’s always telling you, you can’t do this. Little girl, you’re gonna get hurt. Little girl, you’re on the wrong side. Why are you over here? You’re getting bumped into, that’s life. Until she finally said, dad, I’m too old to do this, I had her walk down the opposite direction of moving sidewalks. It stuck with her. She’s not afraid to take risks. She’s not afraid to be ridiculed. She’s not afraid to tell women just don’t do that kind of thing. So family and raising her and spending all that quality time with her, I can check that off. I could die tomorrow and say, of the five aspirations that I wanted and I aspired to have, that materialized.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I love that story about walking Laura to school for 10 years with a very few exceptions. And you didn’t use this word, but the way I think about it is that you were present, right? That’s what is one of the tenants of the 21st Century Dads Foundation, is that we focus on four areas that dads could be present. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and I guess what the state cares about is financially present. Now the money is one thing, but those other three things – physical, emotional, and spiritual presence – is what a lot of kids are striving for or lack in their relationship with their dads. And that’s what I heard you emphasizing. You were physically present.
Frank McKinney: Every single one of those walks, David, I was present in those three ways. I had a little self-imposed rule there. I didn’t bring my phone. Cause I used to see back in the early days, like this is when guys would walk around with a single little, whatever, those little things in their ears. And I thought that was just the stupidest thing. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna be talking to the air when I’m walking my daughter to school. Man, I’m glad you put that on the top of the list because it is on the top of my list of things that I aspired to accomplish in my life. And I continue to accomplish it every day that I’m with my family.
David Hirsch: Yeah. My hat’s off to you for the commitment. So most people, at least from a business standpoint, would know about your real estate experiences. Started out at a pretty humble level, in your own words buying and selling crack houses. Let’s just say that they were inexpensive properties, right? If not actual crack houses. And I’m wondering what was it that propelled you from wanting to be somebody in the real estate world to becoming this nationally known world-renowned real estate artist and taking the risk of building these spec homes? Not one or two, not a dozen, but close to four dozen spec homes of consequential value. That’s just like way over the top. It didn’t go from crack house to $15 million house overnight. So describe for our listeners the trajectory there.
Frank McKinney: Yeah. So for five years I didn’t do a house worth more than $100,000 and I became very good at the craft of real estate, not the business. The business will follow. Sacrifice your bottom line for your reputation. Build your reputation first and the bottom line will follow. And that’s my saying. It’s something that I was keen on. I would sacrifice margin for my reputation, even with the crack houses. They were the nicest little crack houses on the block when I got done with them.
And after five years, I realized I was really good at this thing called real estate. My margins were increasing, even the notoriety for doing little crappy houses in bad neighborhoods we were starting to gather. And my therapist today, this is maybe many years ago, said, Frank, you’re addicted to… The things that got me in trouble were the obvious things, but you weren’t addicted to those things. You were addicted to the excitement associated with those things. The drugs and the alcohol and the stealing cars and the holding up the convenience stores. You didn’t like any of that stuff. You loved the excitement. When you build a $15 million house without a buyer in mind on speculation, and you don’t know if you’re gonna be eating at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or out of a dumpster, that is very exciting. I knew I was alive every single day for the 30+ years that we were building high-end spec homes.
The second thing I got to satisfy was the artist in me. So I may, again, this is audio only. You can’t see me. Many people think I’m in a band. Like you must sing, play an instrument, or do you sculpt? Do you paint? I can’t do any of those things, but I love the artistry associated with creating three dimensional art that people can live in and pushing the envelope when it came to the amenities because I now know what the ultra-wealthy want before they know they want it. And that’s what I talk about in my books as being my professional highest calling, a gift God gave me to do something a little bit better than most. Not better than everybody, but better than most. Everybody has a professional highest calling. You’ll read about that in Aspire! So as the zeroes started to add up, I did go from $50,000 to $2 million. There was nothing in between because I realized, this thing called real estate, I have a knack for it and why bother, half a million or a million. I convinced my wife, let’s take the risk. Let’s do it. And we did. The most expensive house we ever did on spec was a $50 million house. So I went from a $50,000 crack house to a $50 million house on spec. For those of you who don’t know what spec is, that’s building a house without a buyer in mind. So you build it and like the Field of Dreams, you hope they will come. And they have for over 30 years. So that has satisfied… I dial back to a half an hour ago when I talked about Freud saying that our core personalities are formed by the age of four. If my core personality was one that was predisposed to risk and excitement and thrills and being addicted to those things, I got to satisfy that in a….
I do a lot of talks at detention centers, at rehab facilities. Not that I’ve ever been to one. And I say, look guys, you’ve got a special synapse in your brain that got you in here. I say special. I say it’s a gift. Redirect what we refer to not just a side, but we refer to as self-destructive tendencies into something constructive. You don’t have to change! Just redirect or reignite something that’s been buried or oppressed for a long time. That’s what I got to do with the real estate. I have not changed. The same person you see here is the guy you saw in high school. Only I found a constructive outlet for what was a destructive tendency. And listen, I don’t wanna be a starving artist. I understand the numbers associated with making a profit. I retired for a while now. I just came outta retirement last year to do this beautiful artistry in North Carolina. But that 30+ years was quite a ride.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I wish we could spend more time on that, but it’s very unique, right? To be able to do what you’ve done and at the level that you did for the length of time that you did. And I know that there’s a lot more that somebody could learn about through the website that you have and through the books that you’ve written about.
So the third of your life aspirations, after family and the real estate work you’ve done, is this way-over-the-top commitment to what’s known as BADWATER 135, a 135-mile Death Valley, middle of the Summer, one of America’s if not the world’s most challenging foot races. And as somebody who’s done a fair number of marathons, got my ass kicked last year, trying to do the Keys 100 from Key Largo to Key West, I have a very high level of appreciation for the level of commitment that it takes just to do an ultramarathon, let alone come back, not once, not twice, but 12 different times. And I’m wondering what was it that attracted you to start marathoning and then ratchet that up to ultramarathoning?
Frank McKinney: I think it goes back to even the earliest of days being a maintenance worker on a golf course and earning $4 an hour and then being a tennis instructor and earning $100,000 a year as a 19 year old. There never was any limits for me. I never believed in limits. And then I realized tennis, maybe there is a limit to how much I can make, so I need to move into the real estate business. And I was encouraged to do so by my tennis students, and then there was really no limit. Like we designed a $135 million house once. We never built it, but sold the land underneath it. So when it came to that race, David, the very short story is I was vacationing in Death Valley because I wanted to be in the hottest place in the world. My wife didn’t even know we were going until I said, honey, I booked a vacation in a half star hotel where there were [David laughing] scorpions on the floor. And we’re gonna go check out what’s referred to as the hottest place in the world, Death Valley, California in July.
I get there, I’m a fast twitch runner. I run, I was at that time running a 10K in around 40 minutes, and I decided to go off on my little six-mile run. When I say I was crawling back to the room with my eyes rolled back in my head from heat stroke I’ll save you a long story but my wife had to basically bring me back to life by taking me down to the little general store, buying Gatorade and a banana. And when the clerk saw me, he said, you better get back out there. You’re in last place. You’re gonna miss the cutoff. You’re not gonna make it. I was already delirious, David. Sir, I’m sorry. What are you talking about? Yes, I’m flush in the face, but I’m in last place in what? He says, what you’re not in the BADWATER Ultramarathon? Long story short, I had booked my vacation during the BADWATER Ultramarathon, and I had never heard the word ultramarathon uttered. I didn’t know there was such a thing. And I said, you mean there are people out there running in this, 135 miles nonstop?
The hair on my arm still stands up. He says, yes, you can go down to the Ranger station and buy a video called “Running on the Sun,” which was a documentary. Like a child watching cartoons a hundred times over, I watched that video. A year to the date, which was, this happened in 2004 in July. I was at the start line in 2005. I had hired a coach. I got the mandatory race under my belt. Back then, you only needed one 100-mile race. And that starting gun went off. I just, I was enamored. I still am enamored. I still dream about it.
So the first time I went because it was BADWATER. And each time I went back was for a different reason. It was the people. It was the place. What I got out of that spiritually, I couldn’t get on any therapist’s couch or from any book. I know why a lot of the stories in the Bible are written. Most epiphanous stories in the Bible are in and about the desert. And after my first race, David, in ’05, ’06, ’07, I raced a bunch of times in a row. I, by the way, full disclosure, I failed to finish five of those 12. So I know what it’s like to fail to finish.
And my career took off because when you finish something like that, there really is nothing that’s impossible. I was not a seasoned runner. I had never even run a half marathon before I ran a 100-mile qualifying race. So it just shows my coach got my mind right. You get the mind right and the body will follow. You get the mind right, the miles will follow. You get the mind right, the money will follow. And that was just a perfect example.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think what I heard you say as it relates to that first BADWATER experience, you finished the event and it gives you a certain level of confidence that you didn’t know you had. It breaks down some of those mental barriers that you might have had in your own mind. And not like cocky, I can do anything, but I can relate to that, not because of my ultramarathon experience, but I did do a bicycle ride from Santa Monica to Chicago over three weeks. It was 2,325 miles. I was 54 years old at the time. Never had done any endurance bike riding. And most people would say, you shouldn’t do that. You’re gonna get hurt or killed. I put a team together, we had a plan. And one thing led to the next, arriving 19 of the 21 days on schedule, only delayed twice. Once by an electrical storm, once by fatigue.
And we got the job done. And I found my voice to talk more about the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives because we called it the Dads Honor Ride. That was the very first of the now four Dads Honor Rides that we’ve done. I can relate to what you’re saying is that there is a little bit of an addiction there. It’s hard to describe. I know that some people would say, I don’t understand why you do something like that. And there’s a tagline out I think it’s Harley Davidson. “If I had to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that.
Frank McKinney: I can jump off on that for 30 seconds. When people would ask me that they knew I was a little bit, I’m not gonna say crazy, but willing to try things that were difficult. Why do you do this, Frank? Why do you? Because I can, that was my answer. Because there will come a day and that day is pretty much right now, I’m up for double knee replacement. I have 40,000 miles on my body. The day is here. I’m gonna try maybe to be the first to finish BADWATER with replaced knees. Will it likely happen? I doubt it, but I never say never to anything. So going back, the first time was an accomplishment. Yes, the confidence went through the roof, but the experience, the rawness, you really get to know who you are out there. I miss that. Replacing that with something has been very difficult for me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about BADWATER and we’ll move on. There was one of these, what I think of as memorable experiences that you relate and in of the books, I think it was Aspire!, where you were a mile short of the destination, right? You’re like at mile marker 134. And there’s just no gas left in the tank and you didn’t want to be that guy who DNF’d with a mile to go. So pick the story up from there.
Frank McKinney: I had actually fainted at mile 131. I passed out. I had never fainted in my life, even back when I was drinking and doing all sort of stupid things. I never fainted. I never passed out. I went face first down into the pavement, crushed my front teeth, bloody nose. And I had to drive back down the hill because I felt it was something to do with altitude. Cuz here we were at about 8,000 feet. My blood had become so thick that my heart couldn’t pump it to my brain. I was basically that dehydrated. I still had time left. There was a 48-hour cutoff and this happened at like hour 40. So I went down, recouped a little bit. My crew, other than my wife, my crew that you’re with, my family, my brother and sisters, they were like, no, do not put him back up there. My wife said, “I ain’t going back home with him to listen to this for a whole nother year. We’re going back.” And sure enough we start going at less than a mile an hour. You’re allowed to have a crew member out there. So I was holding my wife’s hand. At 134 I go down again. And I’m thinking, this is it. Like I’m really out of it. And I ended up doing a crab claw. So I couldn’t crawl with my head down cuz no blood would’ve gotten to me. I would’ve been passed out. Basically the crab claw, your head’s up toward the sky. And I crab-clogged my way to within a hundred yards of the finish line and then got up. And you’re allowed to hold hands with your crew members. They can’t assist you except to be with you at the finish line. If you look closely at that finish picture, my wife, who’s five-foot-one, my brother is six-foot-four. I’m holding their hands, but I’m actually like pushing down on their hands because I couldn’t put any weight on my legs.
Not that they carried me across the finish line, but boy was I leaning on them. And it still was like my second or third fastest time. At a 48-hour cutoff. David, my average finish time was 44 hours, so I was always at the back of the pack. I’m not fast. But I didn’t go to win. I went to survive and I survived seven out of 12 times.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. It’s really miraculous. There’s not too many people that can say that they’ve completed BADWATER, let alone seven BADWATER races. You’re up on a very high pedestal.
Tom Couch: And that concludes this first part of the two-part interview with Frank McKinney. Tune in next week to hear how Frank conceived of and started a village for over 1,000 Haitian residents. That’s on the next Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com.