Lance Armstrong (Before the Truth)

Wearing the yellow doesn’t make you a great dad.

                                                            Lance Armstrong

lanceArmstrong made this observation following Stage 18 of this year’s Tour de France.  He went on to add that ultimately, the Tour was just a sport, but that being a father was what really mattered. At the time, he was only three days away from winning an unprecedented seventh Tour, yet despite the intense pressure of the race, he was intently focused on his life-long role as a dad. It was an amazing moment and one which encapsulated the sense of balance and perspective that Armstrong brings to everything.

No one wins the Tour de France casually. It’s the most grueling athletic competition on the planet. On his way to a seventh victory, Armstrong and his fellow riders traveled over 2,000 miles—roughly the distance between Houston and Boston—in 21 stages. Along the way they climbed the equivalent of two Mt Everest’s and took only two rest days. It’s a race so physically challenging, that even the last rider across the finish line—la lanterne rouge—is a hero. It takes focus, discipline and sportsmanship to win this race and Armstrong has all three.

Focus is a matter of figuring out what you want to do—where you want to go. For Armstrong, it was winning the Tour de France. Once he identified the goal, he focused on it with unwavering dedication. Every effort would be applied to that end goal. All his training, his planning and concentration was aligned to that single vision. He never let himself be distracted by celebrity or other races or profit making schemes. He stayed focused on winning the Tour.

With his eye squarely on the prize, he executed his vision with an iron discipline. It was never too cold or too hot; too wet or too dry when it came to training. He pushed on with an ascetic’s zeal. He attacked even the toughest climbs repeatedly—once famously in a blizzard—until he knew the mountain as well as he knew himself. Unlike some of his rivals, he never stopped and as a result never had to get back into shape. Instead, he stayed in shape and it showed.

The Tour de France is predicated on a degree of sportsmanship that has nearly disappeared in most other sports. The unwritten rules of the race give the Tour a unique degree of charm and civility. Opportunism is deplored and small acts of kindness are the rule. Over the years Armstrong grew comfortably into a model of sportsmanship that any coach can point to. His appraisal of other riders was always frank and fair. He generously recognized the success of others. Even when his own team let him down, he looked for solutions instead hurling rebukes. Best of all, he joyously celebrated the wins of his team mates. Armstrong never had to be a one man show—he knew how to share the spotlight with grace and good will.

Focus, discipline and sportsmanship are techniques for us lesser mortals as well. Applied to our own lives they’ll provide the basis for our personal victories at home or at work. We can all wear le maillot jaune—the yellow jersey—on the Tour de Life if we follow Armstrong’s lead. While we’re working up to it, thank you, Lance Armstrong, for the seven year ride.                                                 —Ebert

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