Things us mere mortals don’t understand: the relentless competitive drive of elite professional athletes.
At age 37, Kristen Armstrong is un-retiring and returning to racing with the hope of making it to the Olympic Summer Games in London in 2012. It’s not just the decision to jump back on the saddle and train like an animal again that might surprise cycling fans and mere mortals.
It’s not that Armstrong already has a gold medal in the time trial from the 2008 Beijing games along with two world time trial championships. No, it’s that Armstrong had a baby, her son Lucas, just one mouth ago.
One of the first things you learn as a parent is to never judge any one else’s parenting skills. You don’t know the personalities or have any true picture of their family dynamic. Still, we’d question why Armstrong needs to come back to the sport and begin the grueling, time-consuming and exhausting training when she has a four week old baby.
Sorry, can’t help but wonder. It’s entirely possible that Armstrong and her husband make better parents than you or I or any super-parents you know. Having children grow up watching their parents do something they’re passionate about is a terrific lesson for kids.
Parenting has also changed significantly in the last few decades. There’s no reason why Armstrong’s husband can’t do just as good a job at the mommy role, be the go-to dad for diapers, meals, doctor appointments and bedtime stories. That’s all good.
Still, we wonder if this is a wise thing. Professional athletes are by nature people who lead an extremely self centered lifestyle. Just part of the job description. It’s all about you, your body, fitness, training schedule, meals, travel, your sometimes fragile ego that needs attention. That doesn’t change whether you’re Lance or Kristen or Michael Jordan or Brett Favre. The world revolves around you.
One definition of parenting is that you learn that the world no longer revolves around you. Your children require your full attention and their many needs take priority. You’re no longer free to do whatever you like. Parenting is putting yourself in second or third place. Not always fun and we’re guessing extra hard for people who have come to love the spotlight.
Armstrong’s husband Joe Savalo will travel with Lucas to races and also Kristin plans to keep her February and March training local and focus on the domestic race calendar. No trips to Belgium. That’s great to see and says alot about their priorities.
When my son was young, my wife wasn’t too pleased with any bike ride I took that lasted longer than 2 hours. I’m also not a professional athlete, an immensely talented rider like Armstrong. Bike racing is her life, who she is, what brings joy to her life.
Still, we wonder: when is it enough? How many medals, how many wins, how much gold before you say, it’s time to focus on someone besides myself. You don’t train for the Olympic Games by wedging in some hill intervals between nap times. Recovery time at age 37 isn’t great when you’re in charge of the 2am and 5am feeding.
One of the enduring and damaging fantasies of American life is that we can have it all. We never have to compromise. We can put in a 50 hour work week, spend lots of time with our kids, coach little league, train for half marathons or bike races, take gourmet cooking classes, have a full social life, do all the yard work, help the kids with homework, save some energy for sex with your partner, the list goes on and on.
The truth is, you can’t do it all and anyone who says they can is a selfish liar and control freak and everyone around them is miserable. Parenting reminds Twisted Spoke of the old theme line for the Peace Crops: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” It’s deeply rewarding and endlessly exhausting and doesn’t mix well with making an Olympic team.
We never had an astonishing talent like Kristin Armstrong. That combination of God given athletic prowess and an addiction to using it. We envy her but we don’t envy the juggling she’ll have to do as a parent and an Olympic hopeful.
And we wonder, when is enough enough?