By Clyde Davis: Local columnist
“Those hoping for Armstrong to sustain his bid for an eighth and most improbable Tour triumph know that a critical juncture is now upon the 37-year-old. Rain notwithstanding, this race has been brutal, even for a man with so many thousands of miles in his legs and the confidence of a champion etched into his psyche. And it is about to get tougher still…”
(Yahoo sports, July 9th 2009)
The context of the above is the bicycle race Tour de France; the athlete spoken of, currently in second place and only split minutes behind first, is Lance Armstrong, one of the iconic athletes of our time — and I deliberately define that time loosely, as a huge time span will doubtless be included.
Of course, the entire picture may have changed by the time you read this column.
Some athletes become almost literal iron men or women in the minds of the public. In junior high and high school football, I always made sure to grab jersey No. 66, the number worn by Green Bay Packer linebacker Ray Nitschke. Nitschke was both then and now, one of those iron men.
A female friend of mine in my years just after college, a tennis player and coach, had the same view of Chris Evert. The time of our friendship was the heyday of Everett’s youthful success, and I doubt her admiration for Evert has faded much; she probably still has a current version of the “Chrissy Evert” racket.
Then there is Armstrong.
Many of us reading this column will never see 37 again, and that doesn’t seem so old — especially for a guy who beat cancer that had invaded his body to an incredible degree. It’s probably that single event, maybe more than the string of victories, which make Armstrong seem unbeatable in the minds of many.
But for professional bike racing, it borders on ancient. Like swimming, you can enjoy biking well into your nineties — but, also like swimming, your window of racing opportunity is pretty small.
It was the cancer, and the Tour, and Armstrong, that urged my wife and I into a group few Americans belong to — folks who watch bicycle racing. Not any bicycle race, just the Tour de France.
It was the cancer, and the Tour, and Armstrong, that urged me to begin riding a bicycle again, something that, prior to 2003, I had not done since college.
The legend may even be enhanced by the reality of the man’s home state. Even those of us who have never lived there, and who occasionally make goodhearted fun of Texas know that there is something swaggeringly audacious, larger than life, about Texas.
As with New York or Hollywood, our bristles go up when a foreigner derides Texas.
It’s one thing for we U.S. citizens to joke about those three national treasures. It’s quite another matter when someone from another country — say France — throws the first insult.
Which may be another piece of the Armstrong iron man legend. To all but the most ridiculously skeptical, he successfully weathered the accusations of doping leveled at him by the tour’s administration.
The words of a popular Palm Sunday hymn come to mind as a fit closing for this column. Certainly no disrespect nor sacrilege is meant by this, but don’t the words “Ride on, ride on, in majesty…” seem an appropriate pun?
Go, Lance; you carry hope for us all, and remind those of us over 35 (or 45…or 50) that the couch, junk food and TV are not viable options.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org