Tuesday, July 11, 2006


The Road Less Traveled

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that Red State Rabble has, in many ways, decided to take the road less traveled. One aspect of that less traveled road -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say many roads -- is that for many years, RSR was a licenced amateur bicycle racer.

Naturally, we've been following the Tour de France this past week.

The big news out of the Tour is that Floyd Landis, the best placed American now that seven-time winner Lance Armstrong has retired, is suffering from osteonecrosis -- the same hip injury that ended Bo Jackson's dual baseball and football careers.

Landis crashed during a training ride two years ago, has been in constant pain, and will undergo hip replacement surgery after completing the three-week, 2237 mile race.

The wonder is, that he could ride, much less compete, at all.

Landis was raised as a Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His parents opposed his early interest in mountain bike racing and he had to leave home to pursue his love of cycling.

Daniel Coyle tells Landis' story, "What He's Been Pedaling," in the upcoming July 16 New York Times Magazine which is available online now (sub. req.) Here's what Landis has to say about cycling and his Mennonite upbringing.
‘‘They basically told me I was going to hell if I kept racing my bike,’’ Landis says. ‘‘I love my parents, and they’re good people, but that didn’t make any sense to me. So I knew I had to get out, and the bike was the way.’’

‘‘It wasn’t all the rules that got me, so much as the fact that they didn’t seem logical to me,’’ Landis says. ‘‘We weren’t allowed to wear shorts in gym class. Does God really care if somebody wears shorts or not?’’
Landis' story is the story of all those who find they can't quite accept the received wisdom of their parents, who decide to think for themselves, and forge their own path in life.

In that way, Landis is like another great cyclist -- undoubtedly the greatest American Cyclist of all time -- Lance Armstrong.

The God fearing like to believe there are no atheists in foxholes. That no one can face death without seeking the comfort of belief.

But, Armstrong's autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" proves that unexamined belief, like so many others, has no basis in fact:
The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better--but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn't care.

I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn't pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn't a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn't say, 'But you were never a Christian, so you're going the other way from heaven.' If so, I was going to reply, 'You know what? You're right. Fine.'
RSR would love cycling even if riders such as Landis and Armstrong weren't strong enough to forge their own path in life, but it deepens our love of the sport to know that it has a tendency to attract people who can think for themselves.

Today the tour goes into the mountains. We are rooting for Landis -- now lying second overall and only one minute back -- to overcome the pain in his hip and take over the Tour with his strength of character, determination, and ability to think for himself.


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