Giving Up

As some of you may already know I am crazy about watching cycling and currently happily enjoying the Tour de France. Of course I try justifying the many hours spent on watching the Tour de France and the stage aftermath in the 3 daily talk shows. Is there a link between real life and cycling? A meaningful one? I think there is.

One of the main characteristics many riders share is their stamina. Stamina to persevere under dire circumstances. And I don’t mean rain, wind and even snow whilst they are racing. What I mean is racing with a few broken ribs, a broken hip or punctured lungs. Not giving up despite feeling lousy. It seems that giving up is simply unthinkable.

Remember how Pedro Horillo fell down a ravine in the Tour of Italy a few years back. He ended up in a hospital, and when he woke up from his coma the first thing he asked for was his bike to continue the race. In the end, he never raced again as a result of the injuries sustained.

Remember last year’s Tour de France and the big crash in the first week. I wrote this about it at the time: “So you find yourself in a little ravine. You’ve broken 2 of your ribs and a shoulder blade, and have pneumothorax. But here’s the thing: you do not know this. No-one’s told you yet. So you pick up your bike, climb out of the ravine, and ride another 600 meters. And then you realise you’ve seen better days. It may not be possible to continue to Paris after all… Hat off to Jurgen van den Broeck of Belgium who lived this incredible tale yesterday.”

Remember the car that threw Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha off their bikes and Johnny into a nasty fence of barbed wire. Johnny continued, 33 stitches in his legs and buttocks and all.

Remember Wout Poels, who crashed last week. He had been put into an ambulance already when he decided he could not – just could not – give up. So he climbed on his bike again. And rode 10 km. His manager did not much like the way he looked and started talking to him. 5 km later he had convinced Wout that it might be better to quit. Wout is now in ICU, with a ruptured spleen, a destroyed kidney, a few broken ribs and lung damage.

And this is just a small selection.

So what can we simple mortals learn from this heroism?

For starters – not to give up too easily. Things may not go smooth, they may be painful, they may look hopeless. But maybe if you survive this one day, the next one will be better. Maybe the next stage will give you that opportunity for success that you have been looking for. If you quit now, you will never know. So you’d better make sure that giving up is the right thing to do. The inevitable thing to do. So you should check first – are these feelings, thoughts, emotions or facts? Do I just feel shitty or do I have a punctured lung? Should I medically be in ICU or can I continue trying?

But we can also learn another thing. Sometimes giving up on something is indeed the right thing to do. It does not make much sense to stay in a 3-week race if your shoulder blade is crushed. You will achieve nothing that way, except endangering your health. Sometimes we, non-physical labourers, hang in there for longer than is good for us. We may not medically be ready for ICU but we, too, can exert ourselves too much for something that is simply not worth the sacrifice or the risk to ourselves. We, too, sometimes get lost in the mantra that we should just continue for now, that things will be better, less hectic, less frustrating tomorrow. While all along we could know that this is very unlikely to be the case as long as we do not change anything in or around ourselves.

What we can learn, too, is that giving up on one thing can create space for another. Pedro Horillo can now focus on his writing and has written a book. Bradley Wiggins crashed last year in the Tour de France and had to give up, but took his revenge in the Tour of Spain where he rode well and ended up 3rd overall.

However, this does not happen by and of itself. You first will have to accept fully that the thing to be given up needs to be given up entirely. And you have to actively embrace the new thing that comes in its place. This is not easy, certainly. Accepting that a dream cannot come true in the way you had envisioned never is. Nor is getting joy out of something that may seem second best at first. This requires practical closure as well as a versatility of mind that not all of us can find easily within ourselves. The same goes for riders. Some of them cannot let go. Let’s use those as a living example that sometimes giving up can make you more successful than hanging on. And while we are at it, let’s thank them for this lesson and for their heroism that is at the heart of it.