Wow. What a big word. Are there heroes in the postmodern day? Have we managed to deconstruct, transcend (Remind me to tell the PHC Joke at the end, as Footnote 1), analyze, manage, and debate the Hero off of his place in the public square?
Perhaps. (See footnote 2)
Cycling has heroes in droves. Pick an arechetype, there’s a cyclist to fit the mould.
We’ll start with the obvious, the guy about whom we have another 10 days of coverage. Big Tex. Even at the beginning of his career, Lance Armstrong was a force. US Professional Champion. World Champion. Stage Winner. Classics Winner. Even before 1996, Armstrong was carrying the American torch in the European cycling world. And his return to the peleton, and into history, is rightly the stuff of legend.
It’s impossible to talk about Armstrong without mentioning Eddy Merckx, who is unquestionably the greatest bicycle racer ever to live. The Cannibal was fierce, actually winning (as in beating 200 guys at a time) about a third of the races he entered each year in his prime. Unlike Armstrong, he wasn’t a Tour specialist – he dominated the Giro and the Classics in addition.
There’s Mario Cipollini, my absolute favorite – The Lion King – style and substance. For the better part of the time I’ve been watching cycling he was there – charging to the finish, shoulder to shoulder, flashing huge white teeth and a crap-eating grin. AND, looking like was doing it all for the kisses from the podium girls at the end.
For folks who favor near misses – Jan Ullrich. People who feel like it’s them against the world – Marco Pantani. The promise of youth was shown by Thomas Voekler last year, blowing up every day in the Pyrenees, doing everything he could humanly do to stay in yellow another day.
It’s not just the pros who are my heroes. There’s the guy on the tricked out tri bike who I’ve been passing while running after I tuck the kids in. There are the two retired guys I see pedaling Burma most every day during lunch. This guy inspires me fiercely.
There are the artists in carbon fiber, steel, and aluminum who make the machines. The commuters who embody the possibility of the bike. The wrenches who enable us to hear drivetrain symphonies in the vein of 4’33”. 10,000 riders shattering the myth of the lazy Houstonian not for themselves, but for others.
The common thread is the bike. An inanimate object that somehow manages to capture both the imagination (who hasn’t wondered “What if I just keep riding?”) and enhance the spirit at the same time. “A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man“.
It’s an odd synergy – somehow, the bike manages to pass almost universally positive images regardless of the person connected to it. Kids wobbling on training wheels. Old couples on cruisers. The guy with the messenger bag slung over his shoulder, saving a gallon of gas each day for his kids. Trailers on the bike path on Saturday morning.
So I guess the real hero here is the Inanimate Carbon Rod! wait – I meant the real hero is the bike. Turns ordinary people into people who want to live extraordinary lives. Not bad for 20 to 30 pounds of alloyed metal, rubber, plastic, and carbon fiber.
—– Footnotes —–
Footnote 1 – This is completely and totally cribbed from Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home companion, but here goes – q. Why did the buddhist tell the dentist not to give him any novacaine when he filled his tooth?
Wait for it…
a. He was trying to transcend dental medication
Heh. That one completely slays me.
Footnote 2 – I am gradually beginning to believe that the paucity of world famous people upon whom to hang hopes and dreams is not due to a shortage of heroes, but rather the growing realization that there are heroes all around. Many of you have played a part in my reaching that conclusion. Keep it up.