Oh, Man…I’m Breaking Away!
“With Positive Test, Contador May Lose Tour Title”
Anyone who knows me, knows I like to ride bikes. I’ve been a big fan since I was a little kid. I remember the training wheels coming off. I remember the challenge from my dad to ride my old bike to the top of the huge hill to earn the bike I wanted. I remember cresting that hill without stopping a few weeks later! I remember riding all summer feeling free and strong. I remember watching the movie Breaking Away and feeling so validated in my bike world.
While down with the flu shortly after my wedding in 1989 I was inspired watching Greg LeMond win the Tour de France. As soon as I was well, I pulled out my trusty (and a little rusty) Schwinn LeTour and started riding again. Ellen had to rescue me and my buddies a few times, but she enjoyed riding, too. I ended up completing three 100 mile bike rides that summer. We raised a lot of money for several charities and had a great time! I was hooked again.
It proved a little too tough to maintain my addiction through grad school which began that Fall. When I became a pastor, I would ride to the library in the summer to plan my preaching. I remember the ingenuity required to strap my computer to my old bike. Interesting times.
Then, in the summer of 2000 I was beginning a church planting project. We wanted to cover the region in prayer. Prayer walking on every street was taking too long. An idea sparked in me to do some prayer riding. I would ride at a slow pace for a couple of hours each day, trying to cover all 12,000 homes with prayer, while others walked and some even did some prayer driving! I didn’t quite get it all covered, but I lost about 35 lbs and gained a ton of perspective on our community. Talk about life in HD! I was surveying my world, feeling with wind on my face, saying hi to strangers. I was having my bones rattled by the mean streets of NW Indiana. More importantly, I was trying to put my faith into action.
I was also watching Lance win the Tour. The excitement of cycling was back with an inspiring story of healing attached. So bikes, connecting with God and my calling were fused together forever. Nudged in there was a very deep appreciation for the suffering demanded by this sport.
Cycling in Europe is epic. It’s said to be a uniquely spiritual sport. You have to face the truth when it’s just you and the wind. One has to carry his weight when riding with the team, often sacrificing personal goals for the higher purpose. Even the eventual winner of a stage race has to depend deeply on teammates to draft him up the long mountain stages. You have to have a pretty big ego to believe you can win, but at the finish line, that ego has been tempered by the struggle. The majestic visual backdrop of the big tours in France, Italy, and Spain is also beyond breathtaking. The idea of cycling is a pure one: men and machines locked in simultaneous embrace/battle with the wonders of the created order, each other, and themselves.
The next Spring I started training for local races. It’s quite a thrill to be going all out while shoulder-to-shoulder with others who want to win! I never placed even once, (I led for a few laps at times) but did learn more about myself and how to overcome through suffering. That Spring I went home to Iowa for a race around the hills of a park I had loved growing up. I did not remember how steep those hills were! 7 laps of pure torture: downhills so fast (38-40mph) I thought I couldn’t control the bike, uphills so agonizing I couldn’t feel my legs-over and over and over! I was the final finisher, but finish I did! A few of the cocky guys who blew past me early received DNF (did not finish) so I technically wasn’t last. On a cold Lazarus Saturday before Palm Sunday I found my limits but also a sweet surrender after the pain. Unbind him and let him go! Yes there seemed a deep connection between sport and spirit.
That’s the idea anyway…then along comes a spider called doping. Ugh! Tyler Hamilton, stripped of his Olympic medal. Floyd Landis, guilty. Scales fell from my eyes…this beautiful idea crushed. Just when I thought the sport might have found itself again, tonight’s headline hits. Even Contador? Well, I never really liked Contador anyway… (smile). The pressures of sponsors, TV ratings, and, evidently, history bear down on these men with feet of clay and they crumble. Oh, how I hope and pray Lance was never guilty of doping in his Tour victories! So many millions of people believed in the idea of him: a pure idea of overcoming through suffering.
We’ve learned by now our earthly heroes can only take us so far, especially famous ones. The Foo Fighters may have it right, “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary!” All I really needed to know about cycling I learned from Breaking Away! Sometimes famous heroes cheat, but if you can stay true and suffer with courage you can become a hero to the ones you love, maybe even to your enemies. Genuine heroes don’t have sponsors, they sponsor hope and faith in others.
I’m thankful for heroes like my Mom, Paul King, Ruth Crow, Fred Martin, and Rick Williamson who showed me faith in real life. Today I’m thankful for real life heroes like Carol, Ellen, Jeff, Joy, Paula, Rachel, Rocky, Sarah and many others who sacrifice for Jesus to make NewHope Community Church shine. So who are your heroes?