Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some things are NOT just like riding a bike....

Last week I read Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike." It's about his battle with cancer and his return to biking. Interesting. He is pretty honest to his nature throughout the book; he's actually seems to be kind of a jerk. But he was also very human in his response to learning he had cancer, I completely understood his feelings and reactions. He kept trying to deny it, to bike it away, telling himself, "If I keep moving, I'm not sick." But he was really, really sick.

I didn't know that he was that sick. His testicular cancer had metastasized to his lungs and brain. Very sick. His prickly nature came back during his treatment, and in particular when he decided to try to find the right doctor and treatment plan that would let him continue to race bikes, rather than destroy his lungs and thus his career. Being kind of a jerk probably served him well in that respect.

But I think the most revealing section of his book was when he wrote about the first months AFTER his treatment, returning to his real life. He failed at first. And he's open about it. After feeling a lot of dislike for him based on the chapters about his treatment, I found some respect and even sympathy for him. Is it hard to feel sympathy for a guy who's post-cancer life involved moving to France to ride a bike for a living? At first. Gee, what could be hard or trying about that?

But he failed, and he quit. He couldn't get back into it. Pulled over in the middle of a cold, rainy Paris-Nice race, and just gave up, right there, on the side of the road. Gave away his stuff, left France, and went back to Texas, eating Tex-Mex and drinking beer. He was thinking about going back to school, business school or something else like that. Left his bike in storage. All this is before the first of his seven Tour de France victories, mind you.

So what brought him back? I'm still kind of processing his story, but here's what happened: His entourage massaged his ego (having an entourage helps), telling him he had to ride one more big race to show he "came back" from cancer, and then he could retire on his own terms. They basically tricked him into training again. He slogged through for a while, but not wanting to be embarrassed in his last race, he went monastic, training hard core outside of Boone, North Carolina.

Then, the way Armstrong tells it, on one cold, rainy day, riding up a monster mountain, he suddenly reclaimed his mojo. It felt right, and good, and he could do it again. Here are his own words:
That ascent triggered something in me. As I rode upward, I reflected on my life, back to all points, my childhood, my early races, my illness, and how it changed me. Maybe it was the primitive act of climbing that made me confront the issues I had been evading for weeks. It was time to quit stalling, I realized. Move, I told myself. If you can still move, you aren’t sick.
I looked again at the ground as it passed under my wheels, at the water spitting off the tires and spokes turning around.... As I continued upward, I saw my life as a whole. I saw the pattern and the privilege of it, and the purpose of it, too. It was simply this: I was meant for a long hard climb.
I would have been pissed off, believe it or not, if from that magical point forward things were easy for Armstrong. I think it wouldn't have seemed real. But nothing in Armstrong's entire life seemed easy (read the book--I truly believe he fought hard for everything he has accomplished). Things weren't magical for him just because he felt like biking again, as he admits: "I didn't just jump back on the bike and win. There were lots of ups and downs, good results and bad results, but this time I didn't let the lows get to me."

Like I said, I'm still processing his story. But I think I'm starting to get it--the patterns, the privileges, the purposes. Okay, I might like Lance now, I think, despite his faults (or strengths, as they may be).


Meg said...

I was moved by this book too, Dan, for it helped me see exactly what you noted -- that this guy went through some serious hell before he started reaping his very clearly earned rewards. Now and then, though, I still think he's a bit of a jerk (you're not off the hook! :)) , but I can't deny that he's fought and overcome some pretty serious ascents. "Go, Dan, go!" from a member of your entourage.