The Wimp Factor

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in ULTRA Cycling, Fall 1994, over a year after I wrote it, but just a few months before Greg Lemond announced his retirement due to discovering that he is afflicted with mitochondrial myopathy. Needless to say, I felt like a real dork after learning that..., so I wrote the sequel to this article, which you can read by clicking here.

Greg LeMond caught my attention, then RAAM bowled me over: We're all turning into a bunch of wimps. Call it the softening of American society in the Nineties, if you will, but the Wimp Factor seems to be on the rise in recent years. This frightening trend is manifested in essentially every aspect of society as a collective malaise creeps across our homeland like some scary new virus run amuck.

Greg LeMond is one cycling hero who must be fingered in this movement. This man could and and should be a role model for cyclists and non-cyclists alike the world round. Back in the Eighties, that decade when real progress was made in athletics and beyond, this god-man lived up to his destiny to demonstrate how a champion conducts his life, both on and off the bike. Greg set new precedents in racing style and ability, in professionalism, and in being the role model that super-athletes almost naturally become. Unfortunately, he has recently lost his way and quit living up to his obligations, becoming careless about the impact of his actions.

I'm not saying that Greg has to win the Tour or the Worlds, for they are only races where luck still plays a major role. And nor do I underestimate the frailties that can sideline a world class athlete in any sport. Especially as he gets older, Greg does become more human, after all. But what made my head spin and brought my attention to this rising societal wimpiness was but one seemingly minor action on Greg's part: he dropped out of the 1993 Giro d'Italia with but one measely stage to go. That is no champion-like maneuver, but the stuff of those too self-absorbed with their own sorry state to ponder how their actions will send ripples throughout the peloton we call society.

Now don't get me wrong; this essay isn't just about pointing fingers at Greg or any other individuals. I must iterate this right off the bat, for I don't want anyone accusing me of name-calling or putting people down. The individuals who perpetrate this crime of the spirit are not to be blamed, per se, for their involvement; they are to be seen as symptomatic of a deeper, more disturbing problem which lurks behind the theater of our lives. So, please, don't scorn these wimps. I don't. Instead, love them and dream that someday soon they shall return to the fold. Also, realize that they know not what they do, so how can we hold their errant ways against them? Ours is not to judge, only to observe and do our best to help those amongst us. Please don't accept this essay as anything but my own desire to help right wrongs by drawing attention to them.

So let me draw your attention to the 1993 Race Across AMerica (RAAM), an event where only eight of twenty-four finished. This is the worst finishing rate in the history of the event, yet the 1993 conditions were no worse than any other. So what happened? Was the Wimp Factor rearing its ugly head?

I myself dropped out of a RAAM (my second, in 88) and several of those who dropped out of the 1993 RAAM are personal friends of mine and had totally valid reasons for dropping out. But the sheer number of DNFers leaves me staggering! Sixteen different tales of woe that necessitated throwing in the towel on a year's worth of training and investment by the cyclists and those around them? Statistically, it seems improbable, if not impossible, for there to be 16 valid reasons for the 16 DNFs. Instead, one is forced to see at least some amount of excuses and rationalizations that led these poor souls down the path of wimpiness. For their transgressions we must feel sorry, but we mustn't write them off as insignificant. For significant it is when we look at the bigger picture. What's wrong with you, America?

So now I must conclude by asking of all of us some valid questions: Whatever happened to finishing for the sake of finishing? Whatever happened to digging down deep and rediscovering the Champion Within? Whatever happened to feeling and knowing that we're a part of something much greater and more powerful than we can imagine?

After all, when we race, when we put ourselves on the line, is it only for ourselves? Of course not. Whether we're Greg Lemond, a RAAM racer, or someone out doing a Cat 5 race, a century, or a ride to the beach, we carry on our soul's shoulders the hopes and dreams of all those around us. We ride and race for our family, our friends, our sponsors, even for the media, and, lastly, for ourselves. It is not our right to just bail whenever we get a little tired, or when we realize that we can't "win" in the traditional misconstrued usage of the word.

So please, for the sake of all of us, don't put yourself on the line if you're not willing to toe the line. I'll do my best to do the same. Deal?