As an ever ripening-on-the-vine 48 year old I watched with increasing joy the rise of both Tom Watson and Lance Armstrong as they swung and pedaled their way to the very pinnacle of their respective sports once again.
At age 59 Tom Watson’s run was especially remarkable. For those of you who don’t follow such things, Watson played his way to within a single 8 foot putt of winning the British Open, a “Major – Major” tournament if you will, that would be akin to and no less surprising than Buzz Aldrin saying he would be piloting a space shuttle to Mars next week.
But standing over the 8 foot putt Watson looked like he’d just swallowed a bag of canaries. You could literally see the dreaded “yip” building – like a giant wave rising up that was going to wash both he and the magical dream away. He had about as much chance of making that putt as I did. (i.e. very, very little.) It was just too much to ask. I mean, really – winning the British Open at Age 59?
But there he was and as God taught me long ago, Anything is possible.
So I thought maybe, just maybe . . . But when he struck the ball it immediately faded hard right and woefully short and suddenly old Tom looked every bit his years and about 17 million over-35 hearts all over the world gave a collective groan of despair that might have been heard by Aldrin even if he had already arrived on the red planet.
It didn’t take an astronaut to know it was over for Tom. He got annihilated in the playoff by 4 strokes. It wasn’t even close.
The worst thing about watching the whole implosion (and especially that shabby putt) was that the rest of us over-35’ers knew that we were well on our way to that place too. A sooner or later reality where bodies begin to fade and ultimately fail and even gut wrenching perseverance backed up by a great attitude and no small amount of luck isn’t enough to overcome a slowing metabolism and the inexorable onslaught of gravity.
Oh the humanity.
But hope springs eternal (or so someone says) so as I awaited stage 15 of the Tour de France where Lance Armstrong and the boys would return to the Alps to show the world that if you work at it hard enough, even at 38 you can still beat all those young whippersnappers. (Especially one in particular by the name of Alberto Contador).
I was haltingly optimistic. This in spite of the fact that over a weekend beer with my best friends in the neighborhood, I had predicted Lance’s demise would be no less than Tom’s.
“There’s something about the age of 37 or 38,” I said shaking my head. “At some point I think you realize – I know I did – that you just can’t quite do a lot of the physical things that you did at say 27 or 28. It’s just the way it is . . . Muscle fiber begins to change, synapses slow just a bit. I hate it, but I think Lance isn’t going to be able to respond if Alberto takes off like he did early in the race. I’m afraid ol’ Father Time already has a pretty good grip on Lance’s back wheel.”
The brown bottle in my hand might as well have been a crystal ball. As the riders began their final ascent, the top dogs were all together including Alberto and Lance, but with about 5 miles and 2000 more feet to go Alberto turned to Armstrong and said something. Perhaps he shared some required comment about team strategy, but the words, “See ya Pops,” must have been in there somewhere because Alberto broke out of the pack like the proverbial bat from the lower beyond and steamed away from Lance and the rest of the group like they were standing still.
You read it here first: No one is going to win the Tour de France at age 38. My guess is that Lance, of course, knew this all too well but he also knew that getting back in there to mix it up with the greatest competitors in his sport was the best way he could generate support for cancer awareness.
This is probably no less admirable than Watson continuing to play simply because he loves the game and the life it has given him.
Which begs the question – Do such noble endeavors even need to result in a win?
Well, we all love an underdog and a fairy tale ending, but as much as I was pulling for the both of them I think the answer is decidedly, “no.”
Defeats such as these have their own unique glory in demonstrating humility and balance and grace at the highest levels of worldly competition. Maybe the opportunity for such outweighs any trophy upon the shelf – even a 2nd British Open or an 8th Tour de France.
So perhaps it was still a great week after all – even if for most of us we just got that much older. For as physical strength, endurance and accuracy fade, in their place true wisdom can arrive in so many forms. And for Tom and Lance and the rest us, perhaps that’s not such a bad trade.
Besides – there’s always next year. I’m a pretty good rider – maybe I’ll enter the Tour . . .
Hope does spring eternal you know.
By Stuart Revercomb