The Tour (de France) is essentially a math problem, a 2,000-mile race over three weeks that's sometimes won by a margin of a minute or less. How do you propel yourself through space on a bicycle, sometimes steeply uphill, at a speed sustainable for three weeks? Every second counts.
Cancer taught me a plan for more purposeful living, and that in turn taught me how to train and to win more purposefully. It taught me that pain has a reason, and that sometimes the experience of losing things-whether health or a car or an old sense of self-has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers.
What makes a great endurance athlete is the ability to absorb potenial embarrassment, and to suffer without complaint. I was discovering that if it was a matter of gritting my teeth, not caring how it looked, and outlasting everybody else, I won. It didn't seem to matter what sport it was-in a straight-ahead, long-distant race, I could beat anybody. If it was a suffer-fest, I was good at it.
I want to die at a hundred years old with an American flag on my back and the star of Texas on my helmet, after screaming down an Alpine descent on a bicycle at 75 miles per hour. I want to cross one last finish line as my wife and my ten children applaud, and then I want to lie down in a field of those famous French sunflowers and gracefully expire, the perfect contradiction to my once anticipated poignant early demise.
There were something like 50 good, arduous climbs around Nice, solid inclines of ten miles or more. The trick was not to climb every once in awhile, but to climb repeatedly. I would do three different climbs in one day, over the course of a six- or seven-hour ride. A 12 mile climb took about an hour, so that tells you what my days were like.
Losing ... really does say something about who you are. Among other things it measures are: do you blame others, or do you own the loss? Do you analyze your failure, or just complain about bad luck? If you're willing to examine failure, and to look not just at your outward physical performance, but your internal workings, too, losing can be valuable. How you behave in those moments can perhaps be more self-defining than winning could ever be. Sometimes losing shows you for who you really are.
At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn't say, But you were never a Christian, so you're going the other way from heaven. If so, I was going to reply, You know what? You're right. Fine.
I wanted to live, but whether I would or not was mystery, and in the midst of confronting that fact, even at that moment, I was beginning to sense that to stare into the heart of such a fearful mystery wasn't a bad thing. To be afraid is a priceless education. P 99