By Christopher Cudworth
A few years ago it all came together for me. With plenty of time to ride my bike I racked up 4000 miles over the spring, fall and summer months. I was running some too, and my weight dropped to 163 lbs. I was fit and people noticed it. I could ride with people who normally dropped me after a couple hours and it was fun being the rider who did most of the pulls.
There have been several other periods in life where the training and racing schedule came together. In high school and college that was a given. As a participant in cross country and track there were plenty of weeks nearing 100 miles of running.
After college I tried to capitalize on all that training and racing 24 times in one year. There was sponsorship from a running shop to help me along. That included shoes, race fees and travel expenses. It was fun and it was work. Every weekend for months there was a race to run. Sometimes the competition within our team was enough to make the races really hard. We once took the top 9 spots at a 10k race. Which looks good on paper and on the awards stand. Not sure it made many friends for the running shop…
Flirting with the idea of being a pro was always alluring, but in my case, also naive. As I’ve talked with real professional athletes over the years, it has become obvious that being a pro is never as glamorous as it sees.
You may recall that when Lance Armstrong announced his comeback, former teammate George Hincapie wondered why Lance would even want to go through all that pain and trouble. Being constantly on the road racing a bike and staying in hotels actually sucks, Hincapie observed. Even the top riders in the sport admit that it’s true.
Yet there’s a pull to that kind of pain and suffering. There’s also a pull to the eternal youth of being a pro. Athletes have a hard time retiring because there’s a sense that nothing they do after their pro career is done will feel the same way. In that respect even being a retired pro is no glamorous deal. Sure, to some extent people idolize you and treat you as something special. Yet when you go home you’re still the guy or gal who stubs their toe and spills coffee on the counter.
It ain’t easy
Being a pro athlete does not necessarily make life easier once you step down from the podium. Lance learned that the hard way on at least three fronts. The adulation he clearly craved was missing. But then came the loss of credibility as well. Finally, the bar from all forms of competition is clearly painful to him.
These patterns hold true even for us mortals. People who build their identity around their professional careers have a hard time giving up the reigns when the time comes to “retire.” That is why some people choose never to do so. Working may not be as glamorous as sticking your toes in the Florida surf for your remaining days, but some people prefer to keep working.
Those of us who were never pro athletes saw those dreams disappear earlier in life. Yet there’s a considerable amount of striving that remains to be done in life. There seems to be a little bit of “pro” desire in all of us. Hence people run marathons and slap that sticker on their car that says 26.2. For those miles your commitment is on full display. Yes, you’ve paid for the privilege but for those miles you are indeed a “pro” in the sense that your training is being applied in a clear athletic endeavor. We’re all pros in that sense. And even that is never as glamorous as it seems from the outside looking in.