It's been called the most grueling sporting competition in the world. Commentators liken it to running a marathon - and then running another 20 marathons all in a row. Only instead of running, the contestants are bicycling with almost unimaginable passion, speed, and endurance. The Tour de France, which concluded yesterday in Paris, requires a tour de force performance because of how long it lasts - 23 days, with only two non-biking days. And also because of the distance it covers - more than 2,100 miles, including exhausting stretches over parts of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Why has a competition, so European in flavor, caught on in the United States? The reason is simple: Lance Armstrong. This wiry Texan - the finest cyclist in the world, according to many - was the winner in 1999 and 2000, and at press time yesterday, was on the verge of victory.
What first made Mr. Armstrong's story so memorable was that it included his Tour victory on top of his battle a few years back with what was considered a life-threatening illness. When he not only won that battle but also fought back to become a repeat champion in this most demanding of races, he emerged as an inspiration for millions of fans.
But there's another story, largely untold, that yields its own inspiration. It involves his lesser-known teammates. Because nobody wins the Tour de France on their own. The team Armstrong competes with includes several other bikers, and their participation is largely in self-sacrificing roles that help him at the expense of their individual performances. A single example: Drafting is a common technique among cyclists. This involves one cyclist closely following another, drafting in the wake of the harder-working lead cyclist and thus avoiding much of the wind resistance. This helps the trailing cyclist conserve energy for a final push toward the finish line. The technique is not, of course, unique. Every team competing employs a whole range of strategies and has unsung bikers giving unselfish service to help a star teammate.
I like to think of those unheralded bikers and their countless hours of training that are not for personal glory. I like to think of the example they set for the rest of us. Because, regardless of the work we're engaged in - whether it's professional cycling or potato-slicing - the quality of unselfish service, of readiness to do a job in a way that also helps a co-worker look good, is invaluable. It's a plus in any line of work.
That quality of unselfed giving has a spiritual basis to it. God, the Father of us all, freely gives each of us ability, tenacity, strength, intelligence, and so on. None of these spiritual qualities is self-contrived. All are God-derived. As we grasp that God, divine Principle, is the source of our talents - and put them to use to help and bless others - we never lose. We are, in some degree, giving to others in ways that reflect how the Father has already given to us. And we are puncturing jealousy and territoriality. The truth is, unselfed giving may mean we're out of the limelight at times, but it never means we're out of the Father's care. This newspaper's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote, "The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 518).
Note that the blessing in that passage is on the one who sees and supplies his brother's need. Whenever we push ahead so a co-worker can do the workplace equivalent of draft in our wake, we're blessed. Obviously, our aim is not to reduce them to freeloaders. It's to position them to gather their energies and move ahead more productively. And, since unselfed giving tends to get returned in kind, don't be surprised if you find the roles reversed. Suddenly you're the trailing cyclist, so to speak, drafting on a co-worker's performance. In other words, don't be surprised to find the Father's love rolling into your life in ways that ease your burden.
A Bible verse in an early letter to the Christians at Galatia says it simply: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). That's a perfect guide for unselfed giving. A recipe for winning in every walk of life.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor