The other day I was trying to encourage a friend of mine to start “spinning” with me on Saturday mornings. I told her about the intense “sweat induced” workout (actually I begin sweating just walking into the gym from the parking lot), the popularity of the class, the great music we listen to (though I would prefer talk radio), and our congratulatory “clapping” at the end of the class to denote a job well done. Yes, there’s no greater accomplishment than completing a five minute uphill ride at level eight with “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” blasting in the background.
Once she stopped laughing (and made a few sarcastic quips about biking shorts), she told me that I should probably not share that I “spin” with too many other people. Her implication was that spinning is not the most “manly” of activities. Immediately I was insulted and became quite defensive. After all, it’s not like I was asking her to join me in bench aerobics or pilates or a step class (no offense). I wasn’t challenging her to a figure skating competition or a game of squash (like other “men” I know). The other guys who participate in my spinning class are among the top “world class” athletes at their public accounting firms and in their legal practices.
REEKING OF MASCULINITY
I think we all agree there are few more masculine individuals around than me. Why, if you were to look up “manly” in the dictionary, my picture would be right there next to Arnold Schwarzeneggar (not Drummond or Ziffel), Michael Jordan, and Woody Allen. (I would be the one wearing biking shorts and riding a stationary bike.) No sushi or quiche for this guy. No fancy salads (or any salads, for that matter) or finger sandwiches. I’m a meat and potatoes man; a true carnivore, through and through. Burgers, barbeque, ribs, NY strips and filets (hold the béarnaise sauce). Baked potatoes, freedom fries (with chili and cheese), hash browns, au gratin, even potato chips of assorted flavorings. (Lipitor in my future, perhaps?)
I’m also a beer and scotch man (and no water or soda to dilute it). I’ll pass on those fruity drinks with umbrellas or anything mixed with ginger ale or sprite. My weekends are spent at Longhorns, Texans, Rockets, and Astros games or on the couch watching football, basketball, baseball, and golf on the satellite dish (in lieu of shopping or gardening). No manicures or pedicures or J-Lo/Ben Affleck movies. (Though I will admit that I always tear up during certain scenes of “Brian’s Song.”) As far my success with the ladies? Well, I think my prior newsletters speak for themselves in this area. Forty years old and still breaking hearts right and left, while living that glamorous bachelor lifestyle. And despite all that, my very manhood had been questioned. I needed something concrete to counter her “spinning” misperception.
PROVING MY POINT
I didn’t have to look too far for my response. Two simple words made my point quite succinctly. Lance Armstrong. For 84 hours over a 23 day period, Armstrong showed the world (again) that he is in an athletic class by himself. For the fifth consecutive year, he battled the elements, a grueling mountainous course, and an ornery French crowd (actually, they’re always ornery) to capture the Tour de France. This year, he also battled dehydration, a stomach infection, two nasty falls, and a fierce challenge by his key competitor to break his own personal record and win by the slimmest of margins.
Armstrong’s story is well documented, and yet it still sounds so unbelievable every time it is repeated. Just overcoming his past illness to even compete at this level is truly remarkable; but, winning this athletic endeavor five straight years is beyond imagination. He has become an inspiration to all, not just other athletes (like myself), but to business people, educators, parents, and children. While news stories seemingly report daily about the trials, tribulations, and troubles of famous sports figures (proving Charles Barkley’s claim that they are not role models), Armstrong remains the true exception to the rule. He represents that “can do” spirit and commitment to excellence that define America (which makes his U.S. Postal Service sponsorship so appropriate).
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE HEART OF A CHAMPION
For the past few weeks, folks who haven’t ridden bikes since they received their drivers licenses years ago, turned to the sports page each morning to follow his trek through the Pyrenees in France. He dominated our water cooler and dinner table conversations as we all knew the size of his lead as each day began. We watched him overcome the obstacles of this race and remembered the more trying ones he overcame just a few years ago. We learned from the example he set and his “never quit” attitude. And throughout those 23 days, none of us ever questioned his manhood.
You see, training to become a world class racer entails hours upon hours of riding on the open roads, across the mountainous trails, AND on a stationary bike. In other words, this inspiring athlete, this five time champion, this epitome of manhood, is also a “spinner.” I think about Armstrong every time I pull up my biking shorts, strap my jogging shoes into the pedals, turn up that tension, and face another treacherous course within the harsh confines of my air conditioned gym. At times, I get tired; at times, I want to quit; at times, the 105 pound, female, spinning instructor yells at me (and hurts my feelings) for not having “the eye of the tiger.” But then I remember Armstrong’s plight and somehow, some way, I find something deep inside of me and am able to pedal through one last rendition of “American Pie.” As a tribute to him, I will continue to spin (no matter what my friend thinks).