Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On Being an Athlete

I am by no means an athletic individual. In my sophomore year of high school the girls in my district banded together and used Title IX to get a girls soccer team going. My best friend, who had played AYSO soccer for several years, convinced me that I could be on the team. Since there ended up being just enough girls to field the team I didn't even have to try out. Several weeks before the season started, she dragged me to the park to practice in hopes of making me halfway respectable. Do I need to say that our team sucked and we didn't even win one game? My friend played goalie and in spite of the rest of us, she was chosen for the district all-star team. I played left fullback and struggled hard to keep my friend from yelling at me for doing yet another stupid thing. Amazingly, after the first season I went back for more abuse. I was finally in shape and running up the bleachers didn't leave me hunched over, gasping for air. There were more girls who came out, not enough that anyone got cut, but enough to allow substitutions. Somehow I managed to improve so much that by the second half of the season I got to play halfback. Still, I wasn't fooled. I never scored a goal. Never even got an assist. Never learned how to do a sliding tackle. But darn it, I tried, I worked hard, and my friend believed in me. I admire people with athletic ability, even superstar athletes as long as they seem to be good people. Lance Armstrong seems like one of those people. During the summer I try to ride my bike to work as often as I can. It is only about 3 miles, an easy ride, still the first few times I ride it after the winter I arrive at work out of breath. I can't imagine what riding a bike like Armstrong does would be like. So it was with great interest that I followed his progress in the Tour de France this summer. I hoped that he would win, making it number seven. And he did. I decided I to learn more about him and I checked out his book It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life from my public library. Sometimes you never know what you are going to get when the cover says "written with" on it. But in this case it is a fairly well written book. When Armstrong says that his cancer changed his life and made him a better person, I believe him. He is candid throughout the book and admits what a real cocky jerk he was before he got sick. He also says over and over that he lived because he was lucky, not because he is Lance Armstrong. Still, from the details of his treatment, being Lance Armstrong didn't hurt either. Where most people would have to make do with the doctors in their city, he got treated by the country's foremost doctors who had been the ones to work out the standard treatment for testicular cancer. But he gives back too. After he was better he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation and organizes an annual fundraising bike race. The Foundation gives money to doctors and institutions researching new treatments for cancer. I learned quite a bit about cycling while reading this book. Armstrong is good at explaining racing terms and strategies. I never knew that cycling was such a team sport. And it really isn't about the bike. It is about the rider's physical and mental strength, how much can be endured and overcome. Of course it is an inspiring story. It made me want to jump on my bike and pedal up an alp. Or at least that short hill on the way to work, the one that makes my leg muscles tingle before I'm even halfway up it. Armstrong probably wouldn't even have to change gears. But he's a gifted athlete and me, I just try not to embarrass myself.