I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the Americans who brought home two of the biggest sporting prizes from Europe in the last two weeks. David Duval captured the Claret Jug as the “Champion Golfer of 2001” as they say in the presentation ceremony at The Open Championship, and Lance Armstrong’s wore the yellow jersey for the third year in a row as the Tour de France winner.
A Texan and a Floridian, Armstrong and Duval would seem as different as, well, cycling and golf. One’s a former cancer patient left for dead, the other spent time helping his brother, the cancer patient, who did die.
One is in a sport known as grueling and exhausting, the other’s sport is considered gentlemanly and a good walk. Yet, Armstrong and Duval share the most basic characteristics of championship athletes, desire, self-confidence and a willingness to work.
Sitting in lazy-boy undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Armstrong dreamt of nothing but getting back to cycling. Of winning the Tour de France. Following his treatments, weak and sick, he would jump on his bike for 40 miles or so. His recovery is nearly unprecedented. Testicular cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, and doctors gave him virtually no chance to recover. Armstrong gave himself a chance though, believing he would not only recover, but also compete again.
Duval had been left for dead, figuratively, several times. After a stellar college career, he didn’t make it in his first attempt on the PGA Tour and was written off. Once there, he didn’t win immediately, and was again considered a failure. His near misses at the Masters left him among the public’s list of those who couldn’t cut it when it counted. But Duval never wavered in one thing, his belief in himself. Like Armstrong, he ignored the naysayers, the critics, and the fans that said it couldn’t be done. Both men retreated within themselves, finding their own path, counting on their own resolve, keeping a small circle of friends and advisors while they continued to work.
I heard a famous actor say the other day that he doesn’t read any reviews of his work. “You just want them to say good things, and when they don’t, you’re mad. So what’s the point?” Media coverage of Armstrong and Duval’s every move included some sort of assessment of their personalities, their training techniques and their futures. And you know what? They didn’t read or watch them. Or if they did, they laughed and ignored them.
In a culture of celebrity celebration, two achievers shunned the spotlight and went about their work. Not looking for adulation, or acceptance, but rather looking for success, and finding it within themselves. Armstrong said after his victory that he thinks of current chemotherapy patients when riding and it inspires him. Duval said during the final round of the Open he couldn’t get it out of his head that it’s just “a silly game.”
It’s as if both have reached some higher state of awareness about themselves, their abilities and what they are. I know the next time I’m looking for inspiration; I won’t have to look far.