An Old-fash­ioned View of Win­ning

You don’t al­ways de­serve what you get

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CRANKOLOGY - By James “Cranky” Ram­say

What does it mean to win? When I was grow­ing up, it meant fin­ish­ing first in a com­pe­ti­tion of some kind. This sim­ple def­i­ni­tion was based on the be­lief that com­pe­ti­tion is healthy and good, and that the per­son who runs the fastest, jumps the high­est or (in my case) eats the great­est num­ber of but­ter­scotch pud­dings in five min­utes de­serves spe­cial recog­ni­tion.

But it seems this def­i­ni­tion of win­ning is very old­fash­ioned. These days, ev­ery­one is a winner. Any read­ers who are par­ents will know that chil­dren’s sports are now de­fined by the idea that com­pe­ti­tion is bad, and that all par­tic­i­pants in the grade-school track meet de­serve medals. On the up­side, the child who ac­tu­ally does win the race gets a medal too, but that’s prob­a­bly small con­so­la­tion when she or he sees it’s iden­ti­cal to the one proudly worn by the clumsy sloth who fin­ished last.

I don’t know whether this re­vi­sion­ist view of com­pe­ti­tion and achieve­ment orig­i­nated in child­hood ath­let­ics or some rel­a­tivist so­cial-the­ory salon, and I don’t re­ally care. What I do know is that it has per­me­ated adult life, too. Look at the world of recre­ational run­ning, where ev­ery fin­isher gets a medal at the end of a marathon. You could walk the en­tire route, sit­ting down to rest ev­ery 30 min­utes, and still get a medal. I’m sorry, but un­less you ac­tu­ally ran the dis­tance, you don’t de­serve one. You’re not a winner just for show­ing up. You may ac­tu­ally be that other thing – what is that again? Oh yes – a loser.

The good news is that there are still facets of life in which win­ning re­ally is win­ning – among them, com­pet­i­tive cy­cling. And by com­pet­i­tive, I don’t mean pro­fes­sional. I sim­ply mean bike rac­ing, in any of its glo­ri­ous forms. Long­time read­ers will know that be­fore my life was ru­ined by hav­ing chil­dren, I com­peted for a cou­ple of sea­sons in masters road races in On­tario. I was an un­spec­tac­u­lar ath­lete – in a to­tal of about 25 races, I cracked the top 10 three times (and the bot­tom 10 once or twice). But these were real com­pe­ti­tions, and there was no sug­ges­tion that any of us was a winner just for show­ing up.

Bike rac­ing (at least the road scene) is not a wel­com­ing com­mu­nity. It’s full of big egos, blus­ter and one-up­man­ship. The rac­ers I spent time with were strong ath­letes. They also made sure you knew it. There was no mod­esty and very lit­tle room for men­tor­ing the less ex­pe­ri­enced among us. The club I rode with had a motto: “No Rider Left Be­hind.” But I – and many oth­ers – were left be­hind plenty of times. On one epic train­ing ride, I was left be­hind in a tor­ren­tial down­pour, nearly 100 km away from my car, in a ru­ral area I’d never been through in my life. If I hadn’t had my pen knife and wa­ter­proof matches with me, I wouldn’t have been able to kill, clean, cook and eat two bad­gers and a squir­rel. I have no doubt I would have per­ished in a ditch and been found the fol­low­ing spring.

“No Rider Left Be­hind,” in­deed. Even­tu­ally, I re­al­ized that the club motto must have started out longer, and that the ex­tra words must have fallen off the end at some point. I think in its orig­i­nal form it read, “No Rider Left Be­hind is Wor­thy of Be­ing in this Club.”

As I be­came fit­ter year over year and be­gan to com­pete, even the ca­ma­raderie I shared with rac­ing friends was rooted in put-downs and friendly in­sults. I was once buy­ing beer with a rac­ing buddy. In ad­di­tion to our usual favourite ales and lagers, I picked up a sin­gle, very ex­pen­sive bot­tle of lim­ited-run Scot­tish beer. “What’s that for?” my friend asked. “I’ll save it for when I win a race,” I replied.

“I don’t think beer keeps for 10 years,” he said. “Bet­ter check the ex­piry date.”

His words stung me, but I laughed. There was truth in them, too, be­cause I haven’t yet won a bike race. I have the good ex­cuse that I haven’t ac­tu­ally en­tered one in the past few years, but none­the­less, I failed in my mis­sion. I did, of course, drink that ex­pen­sive beer at the end of the rac­ing sea­son. As de­li­cious as it was, it was bit­ter­sweet be­cause I knew I didn’t de­serve it. It did come with a medal though, rep­re­sent­ing its lim­ited run. I still have that medal. One day I’ll show it to my grand­chil­dren as I tell them a made-up story about win­ning a bike race in Scot­land. With any luck, I’ll be se­nile enough to be­lieve it my­self.

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