During the past week I have put well over 200 miles on my bike, pedaling along with the Tour de France. Yesterday, as the Tour entered the mountains, I rode for 50 miles. My legs were quaking and my heart was broken by the end of the stage.
It is a horrible feeling when you realize that your "Superhero" is, indeed, only a human. I remember the first time I had this revelation. I was eight years old and waiting for the school bus. It was 28 years ago, but the memory is so vivid it might as well have been yesterday.
Some neighborhood kids started to pick on me, taunting me by chanting that "their Daddy could beat up my Daddy". As much as I loved and idolized my Dad, I suspected that the kids were probably right. My Dad was overweight and the only exercise I ever witnessed was when he would try to walk to McDonald's for a Big Mac. I'd seen their Dads and any one of them would pummel my Dad should it come to fist-to-cuffs. This was the first time I saw my Dad through somebody else's eyes and realized that he might not be as mighty as I thought.
Instead of trying to defend my Dad based on physical prowess, an argument I would most certainly lose, I took another approach. I simply smiled and said that yes, their Dad's could probably beat my Dad up. However, my Dad was friends with Larry Holmes (at the time he was the heavy weight boxing champion and my father's drinking buddy) and that Larry Holmes would beat up everybody else. The argument was over, and I felt vindicated. On the playground, I had redeemed my Dad's honor.
Disappointments were easier to deal with at that tender age. Yesterday, I wobbled off the bike and made my way up the stairs. I closed the bathroom door under the guise of taking a shower. Truth be told, I sat in the shower and cried.
Lance Armstrong had a difficult day in the Tour. Actually, that is perhaps an understatement. He wrecked several times, one time hitting the asphalt while riding in excess of 60 mph. He finished the stage, but he was over 10 minutes behind his main competitors. This time gap is impossible for him to make up. For all intents and purposes, the dream of Lance wearing the coveted Yellow Jersey ended.
In reality, the chances of Lance winning The Tour were dismal. Always the eternal optimist, I believe in miracles. I suppose I wanted the fairy tale ending where the "over the hill" cyclist came back for one final victory in an effort to increase global awareness to eradicate the disease that nearly killed him. I should know by now that fairy tales do not come true.
At first, I was devastated. I am not a hard core sports fan. I've even written about my not understanding such passionate responses concerning a team performance. But yet there I was, cowering on my shower chair, weeping because my favorite cyclist had "bonked." My reaction felt surreal.
With Scott and Robby knocking on the door, I knew that I had to compose myself. I dried off in time to watch his interview. In this age when sports figures provide excuses and throw accusations when they do not win, Lance's response was refreshing.
He simply explained that he fell several times causing him to continually fight his way back with the group. He did not cast blame on others, nor did he make apologies. He said that he was disappointed, but that he will come back and work for his teammates. End of story. No anger, no tears. Just the affirmation that he is still going to work for his team. Wow! That is certainly not something which is said often by professional athletes. I am proud that he is a role model.
I remain, and always will be, a die-hard Lance Armstrong fan. He has done more for cancer survivors than any other professional athlete or celebrity. I admire his spirit, his tenacity and his strength.
He could have given up. After all, so many people gave up on him when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He could have given up today; many cyclists abandoned the stage to be picked up and driven home instead of finishing the course. Yet Lance continued pedaling, with blood dripping from his arms and legs and his clothes in tatters.
Although he wasn't going to win, he knew that he might be able to help his team in the future. He knew that cancer survivors and those currently in treatment were glued to their televisions, as I was, to see a hero in action. Winning the Tour seven times is an impressive feat, but I was more impressed with the way Lance Armstrong handled his defeat.
I continue to be a proud Lance Armstrong fan. No, he won't be wearing Yellow when the Tour ends in two weeks. He started a movement which transcends his cycling career. He had the fortitude and determination to finish what he started even when a victory was obviously out of his reach. My hero was only redefined today.