Book Review: Every Second Counts

8 08 2008

Every Second Counts is the second volume of Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, following on from It’s Not About the Bike, which chronicles his amazing recovery from cancer. Given my current resurgence of interest in cycling I borrowed this from the public library, and it has served as a safe haven from thinking about my thesis during the past week.

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France over a record breaking seven years (1999-2005), and in Every Second Counts he writes candidly about life in the world of professional athletic competition, life as a father of three, and life as someone who has managed to survive seriously life-threatening cancer. The style of the book is gutsy, honest and masculine, chronicling everything from how it feels to taste victory on the Alpe d’Huez to the emotions involved in the breakdown of a marriage relationship.

I found the book really interesting for a number of reasons:

1. Its breadth of application to life: Armstrong’s reflections on professional competition frequently serve as a metaphor for other issues and relationships in the human experience. It is nothing short of inspiring to read of someone standing face to face with impossible odds (be it in the cancer ward or in the midst of an aggressive peloton)and finding victory from the deepest levels of self-motivation and belief. It is a challenge to the way that many of us face adversity in any sphere of life.

2. Its direct application to ministry: although Armstrong has no room for Christian belief (see below) there are a number of episodes in the book which speak loudly to those in ministry. Whether it be the challenge of continuing to work and strive whilst being misunderstood and misrepresented by others (as in Armstrong’s drug use allegations), the blessing of striving in a team for the greater good (as in US Postals team tactics in the Tour) or of the loneliness of pursuing an ideal and calling in the midst of difficulty and demotivation. A grave warning from the book is of the danger of pursuing a good and glorious goal to the cost and detriment of family life. Armstrong’s unyielding dedication to cycling and the noble cause of supporting those suffering from cancer is ulimately blamed for the breakdown of his family. This is a salutary warning to those in ministry about pursuing their calling to the exclusion, and at the expense, of investing in those whom we love and who matter to us.

3. Its picture of a man on the run from God: I truly believe that this is where Armstrong stands spiritually. In a chapter entitled ‘Faith and Doubt’ he shares of how many times he has been asked by people at airports and other public places about his relationship with God. Armstrong is agnostic, attributing his recovery from cancer to good mental attitude and excellent medical care, and not God. He writes about painful and abusive experiences at the hands of his church deacon stepfather, who regularly beat him in private whilst maintaining an air of spritual respectability in public, and of how Christian faith can be a crutch for the weak, or a convenient cover up for the wicked. Behind all of this, however, is a deep respect for his wife’s devout Catholicism, and a hint of a belief in God which barely reaches the surface. As a mine for illustrations in Gospel preaching alone this chapter is well worth reading.

I really enjoyed Every Second Counts, and would love to read It’s Not About the Bike at some point as well. Armstrong’s book is an excellent piece of sports writing, high on action and adventure, whilst at the same time giving a fascinating insight into the human condition with all of its capacity for surprise and disappointment.

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