July 13, 2009
Tour de Life
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
Few things invigorate my soul more than a good long bike ride in the country. Whether you are out riding with friends and family for a casual ride to take in the fresh air or to set a new personal best for a long ride, biking is renewing for the body, mind, and soul. The combination of the wind in your face, the pounding of your heart, the rhythm of your breath, the pumping of your legs and your mind calculating the right gear is sure to generate a “biker’s high” every time.
So every year I spend an hour or so in front of my television each night in early July watching the day’s highlights from the Tour de France. Talk about a long bike ride in the country! The Tour de France is the greatest bike race in the world, covering over 2,000 miles in fourteen different days, or ‘stages’. Every stage is unique; some are flat, some include leg-numbing ascents of the Pyrenees, but all take the riders through some of the most beautiful countryside of both France and Spain. A few stages that involve individual and team time-trials are included as well, to assure that every skill is tested before a rider can claim the prized yellow jersey in Paris.
In order to wear that yellow jersey and win the Tour de France, a rider must show he possesses two things: an amazing set of individual skills and an amazing team. That’s right--professional cycling is every bit as much a team sport as it is an individual sport. Not even Lance Armstrong can succeed without a strong team to support him. The role of the team is to support their lead rider by breaking the resistance of the wind for him. When you watch the Tour de France (which I hope you will some time this week before its conclusion on Sunday), you will see the majority of the riders bunched together in what they call the “peloton.” Various team riders will take their turn in the front breaking the wind for the lead rider.
The average speed of a rider in the Tour is thirty miles per hour (although they reach fifty-sixty miles per hour on the descents). Next time you are driving thirty miles per hour put your arm out the window to feel the resistance from the wind. Your arm is out there unprotected so it bears the full brunt of the wind created by traveling thirty miles per hour. Your body is in the car, protected by the windshield so it feels no wind resistance. The same is true for a cyclist who is drafting behind the protection of other riders. Then when there are a few kilometers to go in the stage, the lead rider, having conserved energy by being protected, will slingshot past his team mates and compete against the other lead riders for victory in that stage.
There is a lesson in this for us when we reflect on our own whole-person wellness. We also need to possess two things to succeed: a strong commitment to our personal wellness, and a strong team to surround and support us. In our individualistic culture, it is easy to forget that we cannot experience wellness and balance without a group around us to keep us from falling in moments of weakness and to cheer us on at crucial stages of a race. That team can be our spouse, our family, our friends, our colleagues, our school, our synagogue, our team and/or our church. Not only do we need various teams to support us in our lives, but part of our wellness involves being the team mate that is there to support and protect others.
I hope you will pause this week to watch a little of the Tour de France, and that it will remind you that, on this “Tour de Life” we are all riding in together, we need a strong combination of individual and team wellness to truly “live strong.”