Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's not about the bike - Lance Armstrong, Book review

Lance Armstrong is legendary for his cycling exploits. The seven time winner of the Tour de France which is considered the toughest and the most grueling outdoor sport in the world (they cover about 2500 kms in 23 days in all sorts of terrain and weather), won all seven consecutively from 1999-2005, but what is amazing is that he won them all after he returned from his battle with testicular cancer. Already a world champion at 25, young and brash, the American from Texas, Lance Armstrong, discovered that he had testicular cancer. And then, all that happened to him, his disease, his recovery and his first win in the Tour, are described in this wonderfully captivating autobiography, 'It's not abut the bike'.
"It's Not About the Bike - My Journey Back to Life" - Lance Armstrong

Sumanth recommended this book to me and I am grateful for that. In fact he wanted to get me a copy but since he already sowed enough interest in my head, I picked it up at Landmark and got down to reading it straight away. How does one come back from a life threatening disease like cancer, I wondered, and win the Tour de France, beating, healthier, fitter, stronger young men who have no doubt in their minds about their health at all. And that is when you understand what Lance Armstrong means when he writes - "if I had to choose between the Tour d France or cancer, I would choose cancer". In the paradoxes of life, this is one of the biggest, that what you consider your biggest challenge, your greatest enemy could be your biggest friend. In dealing with cancer and recovering his health, Armstrong discovers a far greater strength, a purpose to his life. That in itself, adds immense conviction to one, when one takes up a challenge like the Tour de France. No wonder he also says - "the Tour is about life itself".

Lance Armstrong's book is inspirational for anyone. What he has done is phenomenal and just reading this candid account of his life, of how he overcame odds and used them to climb higher than ever, will give many insights to readers on how to handle adversity and convert them into "opportunities". His testicular cancer did not merely end with surgery to remove the diseased testicle, it was found to have metastasized to his lungs (for which they gave him chemotherapy), and then, spots were found in his brain so, there was brain surgery as well. In the midst of all this his sponsors Codifis withdrew sponsorship support citing some terms in the agreement, and he discovered that he did not have medical insurance cover due to some administrative glitch and of course, he looked at death in the eye not to mention selling off his house and other assets.

Armstrong writes extensively about how he dealt with his cancer, the discovery, the way he handled it, the  doctors, the support systems, those he did not, the planning he made for his treatment, his continuous participation in it and not merely being a victim, his comeback, his fears, his doubts and life after the Tour and the cancer. On cancer he writes extensively in an obvious effort to tell how cancer can be dealt with, how he himself dealt with it by participating in his own treatment. Armstrong read up enough on the subject to want to become an oncologist, went for second and third opinions, explored every possibility before choosing one course, consulted many doctors on several lines of action. There is much for sportsmen and for people who want to do something with their greatest gifts as well of course. If for nothing at all, the book is a must read, to know how never to give up on life and how life, if it finds you worthy, can reward you with plenty. Armstrong found love, marriage, fathered children, got immense fame, championed the case against drugs in sport (despite a heavy and continuous tirade against him by the French Press that could not believe that he could win a Tour title after recovering from such serious disease) and runs a cancer foundation.

Armstrong draws much from his single mother, who always served as a role model for him, as she tackled every problem in an organized and planned fashion. 'You don't quit,' are her words to young Armstrong and it seems to have been embedded in him deeply. Apart from the horror of the description of what he must have gone through as a 25 year old, his fear and doubt, his surgery and the suffering through chemotherapy are well documented. Just as how the unconditional love of friends, doctors, nurses, fellow patients, fellow cyclists, sponsors, got him back on the bike again.

And then he writes about his preparation for the Tour de France in 1999, pushing himself beyond what was prescribed by his trainers, so he would never be caught off guard on the Tour. The chapter on his preparation in Boone and the subsequent one on how he went about the first Tour de France are the best parts of the book for me. He is driven so much, prepares so hard, that in the first stage of the Tour he ends up with the yellow jersey, something that the leader of the stage is gifted with. I found myself choking, as I often do, when I come across such acts, especially in sports, when one rises beyond all odds. That is the best thing about sports - it is about a do or die attitude that we, as fellow humans identify with. It is amazing stuff as we go with him, as he beats champion cyclists by sheer training and will power, strategy and team work, planning and implementation. You can see how he has evolved as he describes the Tour, his colleagues, his team mates, his opponents, the media and his detractors, his supporters - and then he says - "it's not about the bike". By the end you know too. It is far more than that.

All champions realize this truth sooner or later. If winning the first was huge, Lance won the next six on the trot, retiring in 2005 after his seventh consecutive win, the greatest Tour rider ever. He made a comeback in 2009, and came third. Lance Armstrong's tale is how you the biggest challenges are your greatest teachers. And how one can overcome all that is said and known, if one wants to. Life also seems to reward those who believe in it implicitly, justly. Highly recommend to everyone.


Prasanna Kumar said...

Thanks for the book reviews., sounds like a must read, I will get my copy soon.


Harimohan said...

Hi Prasanna, Yes, it is a very inspirational book. To me just going back to the Tour and competing against those world champion athletes itself, was enough. Just shows how much we can do, if we want to. Hope someone makes a movie of it.

Lisa Wood said...

Gosh the book sounds amazing...I kept on reading your review to see how strong Lance Armstrong was with his challenges and how he over come cancer. Love how his mother gave him encouragement, and made sure he never gave up

Harimohan said...

Yes Lisa, it is a story worth reading. Armstrong's mother is undoubtedly the strongest influence on him and she deserves all credit - the book is as much a tribute to single mothers (as it is about facing challenges) and how single mothers can go about living their lives fully while being true to their values.

Unknown said...

hey can anybody tell me where do i get this book in hyderabad???????????

Unknown said...

hey can anybody tell me where do i get this book in hyderabad?????

Harimohan said...

Vinay, Landmark is a good bet.

Mirza Ghalib said...

Simply awe inspiring, a must for your collection of inspirational books

A perfect gift to a person suffering from cancer. After going through Lance's story it might become a life changer / saver for the patient

LiveStrong with Lance Armstrong - complete message of the book in one line

Literature Review

1) An easy read, if you have standard Indian vocublary, you won't require the dictionary not even the pocket one

2) A good gauge to check your reading comprehension skills you should be able to finish it two days

If you don't meet any of the above two conditions you need to seriously review yourself on the above two parameters (Take it easy, just kidding)