21 May 2009

Leaders, lieutenants and domestiques...

I love bike races, especially stage races.  Ever since I first heard about the Tour de France in my frehsman French class, more years ago than I'd like to admit, I've been fascinated with the sheer endurance it takes to ride 2200 miles in three weeks.   Grinding up endless mountains, then descending on those winding roads at speeds around 70 mph takes a level of athleticism that I can barely imagine.

But what really draws me to the sport is more than the sheer guts of the cyclists (and the amazing scenery), it's how much the success of any rider depends on his team.   Despite appearances, stage racing is not an individual sport.  On the days you see a cyclist breakaway from the peleton (the main group) and ride on his own over a punishing course, gaining time on the competition, the heroics are not individual.  He had the "legs" to do that break because his team had been protecting him, keeping him safe, pushing themselves to provide him a slip-stream so his effort was less on the days before.  Teammates spend themselves helping the leader along in the early miles of the break, giving up their own chances of glory so another rider could win.  

In cycling teams there are leaders, lieutenants and domestiques (this last being a french term for servants, maids....)  The domestiques grab the feed bags available at designated points along the route (you don't race 120 miles with just the water bottle on your bike).  They keep their leader safe at the front of the peleton and work to chase down any challenges  or breakaways.  The lieutenants, also called super-domestiques, are often the ones who work with the leader to build a successful break in a mountain stage - climbing for as long as their legs can take them, making it easier on the leader.  

Stage racing has good lessons for life - you don't look at the one-day goal, you work for the long game; if you can have some fun (a stage win) along the way, great, but don't lose site of the big picture.  And even when one team member seems to get the glory, it only happens because the whole team is strong - good leaders remember that, just as good domestiques remember that the team only wins if they are grabbing those feed bags, and working a strong pace-line.   Life in a big family is a lot like that.   Ups and downs, easy days, hard days, rest days, mountain stages... but we pull together and look at the longer goals, not just who wins today, and the end we achieve the seemingly impossible - climbing our own Alpe d'Huez.

With cable tv and live streaming on the internet, its alot easier to follow cycling than it was 15-20 years ago.  We'll watch a recap of today's Giro d'Italia stage tonight (note to self: some mountain roads in Italy are terrifyingly narrow!).  Then we'll have a few weeks before the Tour starts to debate the merits of this year's Tour de France teams (and comparing the riders of today with the greats of the past).  And then, come July, once again we'll watch in amazement as the miles roll by, showing the physical and mental toughness of these riders, and of the undeniable power sacrificing individual glory for a greater goal.    As a mom, whose role can often feel like a domsetique, it's a good reminder that even the little tasks are not unimportant.

20 May 2009

I'm no St. Therese

Sometimes you measure the success of a day by what did not happen.  

  • the refrigerator was no longer pouring water and ice all over the kitchen floor
  • I did not burn down the kitchen when I forgot I'd left the tea kettle on and the water had all boiled off
  • I did not get electrocuted when the microwave shorted out
Now, St. Therese would probably give thanks for all this, or at the very least have prayerfully offered up any frustrations she might have had.    But I'm sitting here engaging in stress-eating a plate of cookies.  And not even virtuous, home made cookies; I'm eating Newman-O's.  (Yum!)     So, in the  unlikely event there was ever any doubt, let the record show: I'm no St. Therese.

What's in a name...

My iTunes were happily running on "shuffle" while I tried to come up with a blog name, then one of my favorite songs came on - about a couple walking along the shore, then hearing the music from an open window, dancing together. (Lennie Gallant - "The Open Window") I've always liked that song because I love that image of open windows. When you take a walk in the spring or summer, you walk by houses and for a moment you hear the snippets of the real lives of the people inside - laughter, quarrels, piano practice, stereos... And if you're inside the open window, you still hear the rest of the world - children outside playing (inventing outrageous rules for whatever game they are creating!), sounds of yard work and carpentry, dogs barking...

Open windows give a snippet of real life - not the nice, neat "Disney-ized" life you'd get if you were invited over. Open windows don't reduce life to clean floors, and tidy living rooms. It's the good, the bad, the trivial - -the things that really make up our lives. That's why I like blogs. They're like open windows.

Oh, and yes, you're right, the blog name and the blog URL don't match; its a reference to why I'm finally doing a blog...

I decided to start blogging earlier this year. I was on an airplane flying back up from Atlanta, having just gone to the funeral of a childhood friend, Scotte Hodel - my "extra big brother". Scotte had kept a lot of us old hometown friends close not just with him, but with each other, simply because of his weekly blogs and (pre-blog) family newsletters. It made me realize just how much closeness and friendship comes from knowing the little ordinary things that mark people's lives. I still read Scotte's blog because it makes me still feel like he's there; I just wish I could have a few more conversations with him. His post count on the blog ended at 999 - I sometimes wonder, what would his 1000th post be if he could send it from Heaven. It might be a really bad pun, some tech advice, an amazing insight of faith, or just a word about the latest goings on at home. Whatever it would be about it would be worth reading.