An inspiration

Yesterday I watched the team time trial of the Tour de France. I felt inspired as I watched the race unfold. I’ll discuss why a little later.

Early this morning I consulted with one of my international masters athletes. She has held a number of World records and South African records for various age groups in her discipline, not to mention the number of gold medals that she has won at international meetings. She is a top performer. She is dedicated and driven to perform to her best at all times. She is a perfectionist in the way she prepares and trains. She has a competitive spirit, a spirit that wants to excel.

She has been struggling with a recurring leg injury over the past four months that had not responded to treatment and has a World Championship meeting in three weeks time. She has been training with a lot of pain. She has had to force herself to follow the programme. There were times when she has had to stop when the pain got too much. Her preparation has not gone according to plan. This has created a dilemma for her.  Should she compete or withdraw? And if she competes, how will the race unfold? Will she be up to the challenge?

On another level, she had been through an emotionally unsettling period of her life that had been activated by her attending an intensive ‘life coaching’ course. She was questioning a lot about herself around the theme of achievement and competition. Was she too competitive? Did she always want to prove that she was the best? Was there a place for competition in life? Shouldn’t she just function in a more co-operative way?

As our conversation unfolded, I noticed two main themes. I knew that she was questioning all of her assumptions, beliefs and values. Her natural competitive spirit was putting pressure on her to resolve all her deeper philosophical questions about herself and her life as quickly as possible. She was intensifying her internal energy. From my experience, one needs internal space to explore and examine any philosophical change that may be unfolding within oneself. This could not be rushed. I mentioned to her that no new information was needed in our process. Instead, she needed space to assimilate and absorb what had already unfolded.

During the conversation she questioned the competitive nature of sport. As she did this, it appeared as if she did not want to compete anymore. She seemed to see the futility of excessive competition. Why was she always trying to prove that she was the best? In the process of her training over the past four or so months, she had lost the love of doing the training. This had saddened her. As she spoke to me, I could see that she did not perceive herself in the light that I had come to see her. She had always been an inspiration to those around her. She had always pushed herself to her limit and beyond where she thought her limit was. She had always shared her experiences and knowledge with others and nothing was too much trouble for her to help others.

I told her that she was an inspiration. But as I said this, she just continued talking. It was as if she had not heard. I asked her to keep silent (to give space) and I told her again that she was an inspiration. This seemed to shock her. Her facial expression changed. It had suddenly dawned on her. In competitive sport, you need to be an inspiration to those around you. You also had to  feel inspired by your own desires, commitments, training and of course by the way you compete when the big day arrives. The way she had endured her pain during her training on her own, for example, was an inspiration even though there were no spectators or fellow competitors around. Her story was an inspiration.

We concluded the meeting with the suggestions of creating internal space  for herself and to align herself to the idea of being an inspiration.

Art (by Jean Tinguely) that inspires

While watching the Tour de France team time trial there were many performances that inspired me. I don’t think writing about the event can ever match the unfolding of the drama of the competition as each team tried to achieve the best time over the 39Km course. The team time trial tests the resolve of both individual and team. A team needs to get 5 of the 9 riders through the finish, and all the members of the team obtain the time that the 5th rider achieves. So an interesting dynamic is created. The team is as good as its 5th best rider.

Firstly, I felt inspired by how the Garmin team rode the race. They did not have any of the favourite riders in the Tour. But they rode the time trial with a specific strategy. Many would argue it was a high risk strategy. They went out at a blistering pace and in the process ‘dropped’ 4 of the team within half way of the race. This meant that the remaining 5 riders had to remain intact in order to achieve a good result. There were no other options. It was over to these riders to perform. They could not rely on anyone else. These 5 riders continued to push themselves to their limit as they remained committed  to  achieving their goal. They eventually ended second of all the teams.

There was also the performance of Cancellara (who had the yellow jersey).  He remained in front of the group doing all the work for his team for most of the distance. Seeing the yellow jersey in front of the team for most of the race was unusual. Usually riders in the team will ‘protect’ the rider with the yellow jersey. In taking on the lead, Cancellara was pulling the team along. He seemed on a mission. His only chance of keeping the yellow jersey was to carry his team through to the finish, even if it meant putting himself at risk.

And then there was Lance Armstrong. Watching him prepare at the start of the race was an inspiration. Although there has been some debate as to who the leader is of team Astana, there was no question as to who was setting the psychological and emotional tone of the team. Armstrong’s own individual intention was clear. He was going to ride an outstanding race. There were no doubts about this. It was a foregone conclusion. This individual certainty was going to activate the team to its ultimate performance. Throughout the time trial, it was clear that Armstrong was encouraging those around him by not holding back. His actions on the road matched the determination that was etched on his face at the start. What had being thought before the race was now being actioned during the race. As the team navigated its way in snake like fashion along the narrow roads around Montpellier I felt inspired by the cohesiveness of the team as they won the time trial and make up the 40 seconds that had separated Lance Armstrong from the yellow jersey.

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