I love cycling and consider myself an avid cyclist. I remember growing up watching the Tour de France with my dad in the summertime. Without fail, a yellow jersey and Lance Armstrong would always make their way to the TV screen. I watched in awe.
Along with winning a battle with cancer, Armstrong won seven Tour de France—only the second American to win the grueling three-week race. I remember buying the iconic yellow rubber wristband bracelets, not only to support cancer research but to support my hero. When I bought it, I knew about the doping charges against him. But I had hope that all of those allegations would soon prove false. I wore it every day.
A Fallen Hero
I so wanted to believe Armstrong would remain this heroic figure who against all the odds—with testicular cancer—would recover. I thought that through hard work and perseverance, he would return and win the tour again. But to my disappointment, and many others, the truth revealed Armstrong as a fraud.
You see, from 2001–2012 Armstrong had denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs. He viciously called his accusers liars. In 2012 the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) brought charges against him with multiple witnesses testifying. Even with proof, he vehemently denied ever doping.
On August 24, 2012, the International Cycling Union (ICU) stripped Armstrong of all of his seven Tour de France wins. It wasn’t until January 2013 that he officially admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs. In his confession, Armstrong described the lengths he took to win and explained how he forced his team to cheat. He detailed how those who worked for him flew the drugs in private jets along with blood for the transfusions he would need before the USADA drug testing. Armstrong chronicled the money exchanges with Swiss bank accounts. All along he knew his wrongdoings, and he denied it. He not only destroyed himself, because his reputation never recovered, but he also hurt millions of people who believed in him. He hurt me.
I think Lance Armstrong knows life is hard and so is cycling. Why else would he go through all that to win? And because we live in a day that exalts winners, like Armstrong, we too look for the next life-hack or shortcut to win at life, at ministry, and with others. We often desire to win at all costs.
According to the Rules
Scripture tells us in 2 Timothy 2:5 “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” We see this true in Armstrong’s life. But I wonder, what will others see in my story? Will they see me compete according to the rules of life? Will I hear “well done my good and faithful servant” at the end of my days? I hope so.
If you’re asking the same questions, here are three things that you can learn from cycling that has helped me remember my goals in living, ministry, and in my relationship with others.
- Draft closely. As a cyclist, one of the first techniques one learns is how to draft behind the rider in front of you to minimize wind resistance. The cyclist in the front of the pack works harder than the riders behind him. As believers, it is essential for us to draft closely to the Holy Spirit. We need to let him lead the pack. He will guide us through the race with the least wind resistance (John 14:16). We still have to do the hard work of pedaling, but life’s heavy winds won’t work against us. So we need to pray diligently that the Holy Spirit will guide us in how to follow and glorify him best as we make our daily decisions.
- Every individual serves as part of the team. Cycling is an exciting sport. It is made up of individuals who work as part of a team. This team works together for the benefit of each member. As believers, we work and serve as part of God’s team. We must all work together for the sake of each other. Quarreling proves useless (Titus 3:9–11) because we have a long race to ride. We need to work out our differences and keep pedaling. Did you know holding a grudge against someone makes our body physically tense? In cycling, our shoulders rise, which makes breathing and pedaling a more laborious endeavor. Even so, a Christian should not hold grudges because it makes living life harder. Instead, we should ride in the freedom of forgiveness (Eph 4:31–32) building and encouraging each other (1 Thess 5:11).
- Who Is Your Team Captain? The race in cycling is made up of hand-selected teams who work together for their team captain. The team doesn’t necessarily win, just the one team captain. The team works diligently and strategically for the team captain's victory. As believers, we often get caught in thinking we serve as the team captain who should win at everything. We forget Christ is our team Captain. He is the head of the Church (Col 1:17–18). As teammates, we should support each other so that our team Captain receives the glory. How do we do that? We do that by the love we have for God and one another. Christ has made it clear, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).
I don’t have the old yellow rubber bracelet I once wore proudly. But I have learned some valuable lessons from the life of Armstrong and cycling. His story warns me that to fulfill selfish desires, we will often look for shortcuts. The sport has taught me to draft closely to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I pedal along in this life. It also has motivated me to continue to work hard to have a healthy team dynamic in everything that I do so that I can propel our true team Captain to victory.