18 July 2008

Lessons from the Tour de France

As you all know, I have become hooked to the Tour de France this year. The first thing I did when we arrived at the house in Hawaii was to find the Versus channel to see what was going on. I've even got my parents hooked because this morning, we all gathered around to watch the finish and my mom asked me if I got tense watching the finish. Of course, I said yes, even if I know who's going to win.

Well, like I mentioned before I've been learning alot about cycling and I hope that I'm even picking up tips and skills to improve on my bike, especially since the bike is the longest portion of a triathlon. While I think that watching the race and competition has been incredible, I've also been learning some pretty valuable life lessons, which I figured I should probably write down, so here goes...

One of the things that I mentioned in my earlier post about the tour was all of the different award jerseys and how the riders, while working as a team, also work towards individual goals. Each of the team members have particular strengths, whether they be sprinting, climbing, or working as a domestique to get their team into a position to win. Each cyclist uses his personal strengths to achieve both team and individual goals. What was interesting to me was how the cyclists discover their strengths. Bob Roll, one of the commentators and a former pro cyclist, said that in the U.S., it takes cyclists 8-9 careers before they find their strength, but in Europe the cyclists are told their strengths based on their body type and then are groomed to be successful in that area.

I've been thinking about this idea of being groomed for a position and I'm so grateful for the culture in the U.S. that allows us to try out different things before we discover our strengths and begin to work on them. How awesome is it to have the opportunity to choose what we strive for? I've been running races since 2005 and while I really love to run, I feel like I've found my strength in triathlon. I feel like I can focus on improving all three areas, but I also feel like I can truly be competitive, which brings me alot of joy. I actually have a huge grin just typing that.

I also picked up some really terrific insights from a short interview with Jens Voigt. While he was talking, I could feel his passion for cycling and his intensity was incredible. He couldn't stop smiling. He said two things that really resonated with me and I actually watched the interview a second time so that I could write them down accurately. He said, "If you try to win, you might lose, but if you don't try to win, you lose for sure." I'm pretty sure I've heard something like that before, but hearing the intensity and emotion in this man's voice when he made that statement made me stop and think about what he was saying. I believe this statement and I agree with Mr. Voigt 100% on this. He went on to say that at the start line there is a slim chance that he will win, but he puts his whole heart and all his energy into the race and takes the risks to be competitive.

He also said, "In case of doubt, just go." What a powerful statement! I can think of any number of situations where this statement could be useful and I definitely plan to use it as a mantra in my racing, but also in life. Someone once told me that when I decide to do something, I jump in with both feet, as well as with my whole heart and then this person criticized me, basically saying that I was wrong for doing that. I think that maybe I'm a little like Jens Voigt in that I'm willing to go after my dreams and take risks, even while knowing the realistic likelihood of achieving those dreams. Thank you Mr. Voigt for putting into words what has been going on in my head and for helping me to finally find a mantra.

The last lesson I wanted to mention is in regards to Mark Cavendish, who won his third stage of the tour today. Cavendish is a sprinter who seems to have a whole other gear when he charges to the finish line. He's also young and has some incredible potential. During his post race interview, he totally impressed me with his modesty and candor. He thanked his team for setting him up for the win and then he said he was tired. As a sprinter, he really struggles in the mountains, but he pushes himself and gets through the tough ascents. It amazes me that he has the ability to sprint at the end of a 106 mile race, but I was really surprised when he acknowledged, very candidly, his fatigue and his youth. I was so impressed and I've been thinking about his willingness to actually say he was tired in his out loud voice on camera. I'm not sure if I could do that and I definitely admire his candor and class.

So, the tour continues for another 10 days and I'm so looking forward to seeing what other insights I discover while watching these incredible men ride their way through the gorgeous French countryside, while searching for and accomplishing their dreams and goals.