Cyclocross Magazine columnist Lee Waldman takes a break from his normal updates on his progress as a Masters racer to reflect on…well, “kids today.” He’s a teacher, so he knows of what he speaks. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column and his thoughts on quitting.
by Lee Waldman
Reading the recent reports about EPO use in the U23 race in Tabor got me thinking. Why, I asked myself, do already talented athletes risk not only their careers but their long term health? I mean, we all want to maximize our potential, but what prompts one person to take those desires and implement such extreme measures? That got me thinking about what’s positive in sport, most especially the lessons that we can all take away from it. And that also made me start to wonder about the generation gap, leaving me with more questions and fewer clear answers.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about athletics is that cause-and-effect relationship between the hard work and the results. Taking into account the vagaries of weather and course conditions, strong, smart, well prepared riders win the majority of the time. For the most part, those same riders put their time in, week-in and week-out, for years. They suffer through the sprint workouts, the L.T. efforts, the hours to develop endurance. They work for what they’ve gotten. I wonder if those efforts are about the victories or, like for me, about the process leading up to those hoped-for results. I’ve often said that I would train whether I raced or not, simply because I love the increases in my fitness and well being.
At this point in the spring, I’m starting to ramp it up again, building that all important base and reaching tentatively into that red zone, crossing that lactate threshold more often. Every time I go there I’m working to approach that place where the racing seems effortless. For me, those moments in racing and training are as valued as any ultimate victory. They mean that I’ve challenged myself, my ultimate competition, and that I’ve emerged victorious. They mean that I’ve maintained that level of commitment and discipline that’s integral not only to bike racing but to life in general. Because, let’s get real here, sport is a metaphor for life. Life takes discipline and it takes commitment. One has to maintain that level in order to perform at one’s best, whether it be on a world class level or at the local level, where we duke it out every weekend for bragging rights.
Last week as I was struggling through a particularly hard effort on the trainer, my wife came downstairs into my “dungeon,” coffee cup in her hand, watched me sweat for a minute and then asked if I ever miss a scheduled workout. “No,” I told her, not unless I was sick or injured. She shook her head in mock disbelief. We talked about what it takes to be successful, even at my age, and the one word that kept popping up was discipline. I think it’s more important for me to maintain that at 60 than it was at 30, and it was important then. It’s a survival mechanism as much as anything else.
But what changes when someone decides that the result is more important than maintaining one’s integrity? I work in a school, where I’m bombarded every day with evidence of how our digital world has changed the way kids think. We’ve been conditioned to expect immediate feedback and to expect information to be immediately available by just typing a word on a keyboard. If that word happens to be the wrong one, well then there must not be an answer, so we give up. We’ve lost the ability to stick with a project when it becomes confusing and requires an extended amount of critical thinking and problem solving, without the guidance of a web browser or the support of our social network.
Considering that garnering results in any sporting event requires just those habits of mind, levels of discipline and personal accountability, I wonder if we haven’t created a world where cheating has become acceptable because it’s, well…easier. Why put the time and effort into planning a season and following a strenuous training regime? Just get that boost so that we can bring home the results that we believe is our due.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing the work that everyone puts in, even the ones who are supplementing their workouts in a questionable fashion. The difference between them and me, besides the obvious genetic differences, is that I’m willing to work within my limitations and enjoy the process as well as the product. For too many people in cycling and life, the end always justifies the means. For me that just doesn’t work. Enough rambling, I need to go train.