Eleven months of the year, I would not never be described as a sports fanatic. I can appreciate the competition and the skills of the athletes. I can cheer and root on my team with as much passion and gusto as others in the stadium. I don't lament losses nor do I celebrate victories beyond the moment. I don't understand how a single game on Sunday can ruin an entire week.
For three weeks a year, this all changes. The television remote is mine. My friends and family know not to call me in the morning, and Scott begrudgingly changes all diapers and takes care of entertaining Robby. I am, by all intents and purposes, busy. Each July I become afflicted with Tour de France fever!
I am a passionate fan. I love the intricacies of the sport and the background stories of the cyclists. I become animated as I pull for my favorite riders to finish well. Yes, I have been know to let expletives, and the occasional Gatorade bottle, fly when an "enemy" cyclist gains time or wins a stage.
My sweet niece, under my supervision during the Tour when she was only two, returned home and proudly told her Mommy and Daddy that "Jean Ullrich is a fu*%ing pr*ck." I didn't enjoy the phone call that her comment prompted, but I have to admit that I was pleased that she was rooting for the same riders as I, but I am no longer asked to babysit during the month of July.
I have not always been a cycling fan. Recovering from my amputation seven years ago I found myself at the mercy of Scott's remote control. He quickly became bored with daytime television talk shows. There are a limited number of times you can watch outrageous people try to figure out the paternity of their children on the Maury Show before you begin seeking alternative entertainment. Scott loves sports and quickly discovered the Tour de France coverage on cable.
I hated the Tour during the first few days. I was bored watching cyclists with foreign and exotic names pedaling around the countryside in a pack. I didn't understand the strategies that come into play, nor did I comprehend the Herculean effort put forth by these men on a daily basis. As my pain medication consumption decreased and my understanding of the sport increased (albeit against my will) I stopped loathing the daily three hours of cycling.
As the Tour moved into the first set of mountains, the television commentators began to focus on Lance Armstrong. I was vaguely familiar with the man and his story. I knew that he was a cyclist and had battled cancer. I knew that he had one testicle. I knew that he went back to riding the bike and that he was from Texas. I never cared about cycling, so I never bothered to read about his plight.
That summer, as I was lying on the couch recovering from my amputation, I began to respect Armstrong. I learned that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had also invaded his brain, his abdomen and his lungs. Most people know that he is a proud cancer survivor. I don't think that most people appreciate that he was given a measly 30% chance of living beyond two years.
In an odd way, Armstrong became a symbol for me. I began to reflect on his accomplishments when I was feeling depressed or battling pain. When it was difficult for me to wear my IPOP, or my first leg, I thought about him and the adversity he overcame. He should, according to many expert opinions, be dead. Instead, he was climbing up the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains on a bicycle. And, to make the story epic, he was winning!
If Lance could survive losing a testicle, brain surgery and chemotherapy, I could certainly learn to walk on my new prosthetic. If he could return to professional cycling stronger than his peers, I had no excuses. I heard him quoted as saying, "Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever." This has become my mantra that I repeat to myself when I feel defeated.
My interest in cycling sparked because of Armstrong, but now my passion for the event transcends him. I was saddened when he retired (the first time) but my interest in the Tour did not waiver. I learned to cheer on other riders, and root against a new batch of "young villains." I do have to admit that I cried when Lance came out of retirement to ride again.
For three weeks every July, I can be found on my bicycling trainer, pedaling along with The Tour. I set my course to mimic that of the Tour for the day, and I ride along. As silly as it sounds, I pedal harder when my favorite riders are in peril. I become consumed by the race, as if my riding at home somehow helps these men out half a world away.
Scott, accustomed to humoring me, even assumes the role of the team car when I'm in the mountain stages. I ring my bell and he will bring me drinks and bananas. He doesn't complain when I toss the peels over my shoulder like the cyclists on TV, but he has requested that from now on I try to aim away from his head. He rarely complains when I am on the bike for the entire three hour coverage. He is a good sport when it comes to dealing with this Tour fanatic!
I'm dreaming of yellow this year. I know that the pundits think that Lance is too old and that he doesn't have the same magic. I still believe and I will be pedaling the entire Tour to help him stamp out a record eight victories in The Tour de France. Go Lance Go!