Let me give you the inside dope on Lance Armstrong. He rode a bicycle six hours a day for years and years…..practicing!!! I’m not one to criticize, condemn or point fingers. But folks, I don’t care about Olympics, touring up and down some hills in France or a hundred yellow shirts! Six hours a day and you’re not going anywhere seems a bit extreme to me. You’d have to be taking something to fall for the old “let’s take a few practice laps around Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.”
David Mark and I each got a brand new Western Flyer one Christmas and you bet we did a little practicing. We drove to the mailbox and back to make sure we wouldn’t fall off and then we made a beeline down to Terry Kennon’s house to show off our new rides! We wanted those bikes above everything else. We’d cut out pictures of Flyers from the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue and accidently let them fall on the kitchen table. It was the only thing I listed in my letter to Santa. I prayed for a bike in spite of Mom’s teachings against beseeching God with selfish request.
It never entered our minds to “practice” riding a bicycle. We weren’t riding to build up leg muscles, enlarge our breathing capacity or sculpt our waistline. Shoot, we lived out at the end of the road. We surmised early in life that the purpose of any bicycle was to get you from point A to point B as judiciously as possible.
You cannot imagine the freedom built into that Western Flyer! The thirty minute walk to Carter’s Log Cabin Store for a cold NuGrape Soda could be “wheeled out” in a few minutes. It was the same going to the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Park Theatre; or hustling out to Junior’s J & J to pick up a loaf of bread for Mom. The biggest gain might have been the baseball games. We could get to them quicker. And stay later. We would measure off the sundown curfew and play until the last possible second—and hop on our bikes and pedal like madmen for the house!
That iconic picture of the kid on his bike with a baseball glove hung on the handle bars and a bat slung causally over one shoulder wasn’t some kind of Norman Rockwell painting for us.
We’d build ramps out of barnyard lumber and attempt to jump that big ditch behind George Sextons’s house. We took clothespins and clamped baseball cards on the fender guard so the spinning spokes would sound like a motor rocketing us toward town. We learned to pedal with “no hands”. We could get going pretty fast and step up on the seat with one foot and wave at Mary Hadley or Cynthia Wheat.
There is a lot more to riding a bike than a yellow shirt at the end of the day.
I certainly don’t want to sell Lance Armstrong short here. Maybe the six hours a day practices were his ride to town. His baseball game! He certainly pedaled into fame and fortune that was way beyond anything we could have imagined or accomplished with our Western Flyers.
We did race some. You couldn’t have a bicycle in McKenzie, Tennessee, in those days without “testing it out” from time to time. Dave and I would start at the top of the hill in front of Paul David Campbell’s house and race the half of mile or so to where the blacktop ended as Stonewall Street turned into Moore Avenue. I was older and stronger. He was lighter and had the faster bike. The playing field was pretty equal for us. Joe and Richard Gooch would wheel out from their driveway and it would be a four man dash to the finish!
There were, of course, no prizes for winning, unless you count the thrill of victory. We would not have accepted a yellow shirt back then even if they were handing them out. We would however, if we got the chance, cheat to win. I have let a little air out of David’s back tire on occasion. I have “leaned in” on Richard a few times to throw his stride off. John Ingram beat me most every time we hooked up between his house and the railroad tracks up beside the City Café. I didn’t find out till we were seniors that he would tank up on a couple of Root Beers before the race to add a little sugar high to his metabolism. No wonder I would race off to the lead only to have him fly past me as I engineered the last small incline as the tracks appeared in sight!
It would be hypocritical of me to jump on the “let’s get Lance Armstrong” bandwagon. I don’t know the man. I can’t imagine the pressure of racing for real money. Or having to impress sponsors every time out! Or fighting for endorsements to keep the riding hopes alive. I’d say stripping him of his titles is a pretty fierce punishment in its own right. Bobby Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens are feeling some of the same pains in another sport.
I hope we’re not heading toward a mandatory point where all your sins must be aired on CNN or Sportscenter. This could get a little more serious than just some idle sports mucky-t muck. I don’t want anyone showing up with a microphone and a camera asking me or Bobby Brewer who painted a certain girl’s name across the water tower in 1964……or stopped up the main city drain behind Broadway Street…….isn’t there a stature of limitations…..