I had just earned a pitiful (in my mind) 2nd place finish in the 2003 Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, WI. It would be the loss that would break my five-year winning streak of log rolling world titles. As I shook my competitor’s hand, and stepped up onto the dock to dry myself off, I thought to myself “I guess I am no Lance Armstrong.” Lance had won his 5th Tour De France that year and seemed invincible. (I know that no lumberjack competition is the Tour de France, and I will never ever be the man that everyone once thought was Lance Armstrong. I know where lumberjack sports rank, and in my corner of the world, I’m okay with that.)
I read “Its Not About The Bike” between contests in the summer of 2005, eventually finishing it on the plane back from the Great Outdoor Games in Orlando, Florida. Later that summer I wore a Livestrong bracelet on my right wrist while I won my 6th world title, my last before I shipped off to Iraq. I didnt really buy and wear the bracelet for the cause of fighting cancer. While obviously a worthwhile cause, I wore it for what Lance exemplified. His never quit attitude. His tenacity. His fierce competitive spirit. The inspiration of his story. How could one not fall in love with his likeness? In a world of superficial heroes, Lance Armstrong was the obvious choice for those looking for a bit of inspiration, even among athletes like me.
After losing my right arm to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, Armstrong would again become an inspiration, this time to “get back on the bike” (er, log) and pursue my dreams, the rest of the world and my one arm be damned. The rationale being, if Lance could come back and win 7 Tour De France Wins after cancer, I could win my 7th world log rolling title with one arm and a Traumatic Brain Injury. After training harder than I ever have before, I came back to compete in the Lumberjack World Championships in 2008 after relearning how to log roll with only one arm. To say that my performance was dismal would be an understatement. After losing in one of the earlier rounds, I was knocked into the consolation brackets where I proceeded to lose to a roller I had not lost to in over 15 years. It would prove to be my worst year of competition in over a decade.
Did I give up? I would be lying if I said I did not consider it. There were two things that kept me going. One was the memory of the first year I won a world title back in 1999. After years of losing as a young roller in pro, I had nothing but feelings of defeat in my heart and was on the verge of quitting logrolling entirely. But I decided to stick it out for one more pro contest, a contest I would win on my way to winning my first world title. The second (admittedly minor) thing that kept me going was the story and inspiration of Lance Armstrong. If Lance Armstrong could come back from cancer and win seven Tour de France titles, I sure as hell could come back and win my seventh log rolling world title, and my first with one arm.
Despite the huge emotional letdown, and the incredible feelings of defeat, I stuck it out for another year, a decision that would prove fruitful. With the support of my family and friends, and a strict training regimen, I would accomplish the incredible. I won not one, but two world titles in the next two years, bringing my grand total to eight. The story of Lance Armstrong was definitely an inspiration to me. Whether it was another frustrating day of training with one arm, or another contest that did not turn out quite as well as I hoped, I knew I couldn’t quit. Lance didnt quit, so neither would I.
As we now all know, the tale of triumph would come crashing down and the man in the yellow jersey would become the Lance Armstrong who was. Although I remained firmly on the side of Lance throughout all the accusations, even I would eventually be forced to admit the fact of the matter. He cheated. The tale of inspiration was exactly that. A tale. And with it, his false legacy would be erased from the books along with the inspiration he gave to millions. C’est la vie, such is life.
There is a sign hanging on the wall in my kitchen that reads, “Be your own superhero.” I used to think it was a little bit conceited and self-centered. Who looks up to themselves in a self-gratifying love-fest like that? As time has gone by though, I’ve come to realize that’s not what it’s about. When a lack of leadership exists, it’s ok to follow yourself. I spent so much time trying to be the next Lance Armstrong that I failed to realize how cool it might be to be the first J.R. Salzman. Sometimes you just have to follow yourself. Forget about Lance Armstrong. Follow my lead. Er, dont. Go be your own superhero.