Find the Hero Within With Spinning

By Linda "The Spin Nazi" Wainright

Why do we refer to some people as "heroes", but not others? What makes a person into a hero? Is it success of some kind? What does it take?

If you run the word "hero" through your word processing program's thesaurus, chances are you'll receive a list of synonyms such as superman, brave man, champion, conqueror and idol. If you run any of these terms through the thesaurus, you'll get another list similar to this one: winner, victor, title holder, defeater, icon, and symbol.

This list of words brings to mind two cyclists who are widely regarded as "heroes, champions, conquerors and idols": Lance Armstrong and Johnny G. What makes them each a hero, and what can we learn from them?

Johnny G, formally named Jonathan Goldberg, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1956. He developed a passion for marathon cycling early on, and later evolved to become a personal trainer as well as a black-belt martial artist in addition to a professional cyclist. In 1987 he founded the Spinning program. It was a grass-roots effort; the first classes were held in his garage at the end of the day when he got home from work and on weekends. Originally, there were no Spinning bikes as we know them; he put his racing bike up on rollers. The bikes we have today are based upon his racing bike and that original concept.

The Spinning program was born from his efforts to prepare for the Race Across America, a grueling 3,100 mile race wherein racers ride from Los Angeles to New York. The first time he competed in this race in 1987 he dropped out at the midway point, too exhausted to compete. Determined to master this grueling race, he began utilizing the latest research in heart rate training and exercise physiology to prepare for the next year's RAA. He put his racing bike up on rollers and would come home from his daily job as a trainer to practice for the race. He would often disappear into his garage Friday evening and not emerge until Sunday night. He learned to train smarter, not harder, using heart rate parameters combined with cycling techniques and motivational empowerment that comes from eastern disciplines and mind-body practices. The result of his efforts was a record finish of 10 days in the 1989 Race Across America.

After the race was over, he asked himself, "What next?" The answer was sitting in his garage: the apparatus he designed to train himself for the race. He realized that what helped him to finish the RAA in record time would also be a useful training tool for anyone looking to get in shape. After all, the most grueling, ultra-endurance race a person can really enter is the race against oneself - to lose weight, get in shape and change your lifestyle. Johnny G's dream of spreading the Spinning phenomena beyond the confines of his own garage came true: the Spinning program is international, as it is taught in over 30 countries by over 4,000 instructors.

Lance Armstrong began his cycling career in Plano, Texas where he competed in the Iron Kids Triathlon at 13. His ascension through the ranks of amateur competition appeared almost effortless, and he turned professional by the age of 16. In his senior year of high school he trained with the U.S. Olympic cycling developmental team in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sealing his destiny as well as his career on a bicycle.

He competed in the Tour de France, the Atlanta Olympic Games, World championships and several Tour du Pont. At the top of his game, however, he was forced off the bike in excruciating pain. A diagnosis of testicular cancer which had spread to his brain and his lungs would have sidelined anyone else, but not Lance. He began an aggressive form of therapy that would give him a chance at a full recovery without loss of lung capacity as a side effect.

Lance readily admits that, though physically and emotionally scarred by the cancer, it was probably one of the best things that happened to him. It gave him a new perspective on life, allowing him to think beyond cycling to the cancer community. He established the Lance Armstrong Foundation to provide hope and help to others struggling with cancer.

His comeback to cycling was rocky. In a cold, miserable Paris-Nice race in 1998, he pulled off the road and quit. No professional team would take a chance on him. Many thought his cycling days were over. A retreat to Boone, North Carolina with friend and trainer Ian Charmichael allowed him to fall in love with cycling all over again. He and his coach made some changes in the way he trained, and, with new courage, he hit the road again. His hard work, courage and determination culminated in top five finishes in World Championships and as well as multiple victories in the Tour de France. Many say he is an even better athlete after his cancer than before.

Truly, both of these men deserve the titles "Hero, Champion, Brave Man, Conqueror and Idol". They set world records in their sport, making them champions. They competed at the top of their game despite set backs that would have devastated others, conquering their own fears and self-doubts. They displayed enormous courage in pursuing their passion and in sharing that passion with the world community, despite nay-sayers. They are idols to new athletes entering the field of competitive cycling. What lessons can we draw from these two men? How can we, average Spinning class participants, be heroes in our own right?

Priya Shah notes in his article, "To Be A Champion, Become A Child," the thing that sets heroes apart is their mindset or attitude. We all possess this mindset as children, but through the process of growing up we have it programmed out of us. We lose our child-like faith that all things are possible for those who believe. Lance Armstrong and Johnny G believed in themselves, in their talent and in their ability to make a difference. That mindset allowed them to become the champions they are.

In order to become a hero in our own lives, Priya Shah states that we should return our mindset to that of a child. He defines champions, or heroes, as follows:

Champions are willing to learn. We come into this world with an innate desire to learn and to understand the world around us. To become a champion, or hero, we must be willing to educate ourselves, or to be educated by others, and to read about the things we need to learn about, even if they are completely new to us. Johnny G studied the latest research in exercise physiology and heart rate training to train himself in a new way for the Race Across America. Lance Armstrong stepped back and relearned cycling after his cancer, and, in the process, learned to love it again. In the context of our health and the Spinning program, we need to understand how our bodies work, how they process the food we ingest, how and why they respond the way they do to training and exercise, and what causes premature aging, disease and death. There is no easy way to accumulate this knowledge except to read and ask questions of our trainers, instructors and health care providers. Knowledge is power. If we have a desire to learn, then we'll have the ability to achieve our fitness goals.

Champions are willing to act. Children are completely geared toward action. As soon as they learn something new, they want to do it. Champions are the same. Johnny G put his new-found knowledge to use in training himself as well as his clients, and a fitness craze was born. Lance Armstrong pursued the most aggressive chemotherapy treatment, after careful research and several consultations with a variety of physicians, with an eye towards cycling after his recovery. After his recovery he worked just as hard at his comeback. We must take the knowledge we acquire and put it to good use. What good is knowledge if not acted upon? If you know what is best for you, you have no choice but to do it! What stops you from doing what you know to be the right thing? You're worth it! Act on your desire to be the best and you will be!

Champions are not afraid to fail. When a baby first learns to walk, it falls a lot. But instead of giving up, it picks itself up and keeps going. Failure is the best teacher. By learning from our mistakes we fine-tune our talents, skills and methods until we succeed. Even the greatest heroes failed. Lance Armstrong dropped out of a race during his comeback, and many wrote him off. Johnny G dropped out of the Race Across America half-way through the first time he attempted it. Abraham Lincoln had several failed businesses, and lost several local elections before winning the presidency. Many a health club participant dropped out after failing to achieve their weight loss goals. The failure is not the thing that keeps us from being champions; giving up is.

Champions are willing to adapt. Children adapt to long-term changes relatively easily. They accept a situation for what it is and change their behavior accordingly. As we grow older, we become more rigid in our thinking, and it is this lack of adaptability that holds us back. Johnny G discovered that the way he had been training for races was not working for him anymore when he tried the Race Across America, so he tried something new. Lance Armstrong became one of the strongest hill climbers in the Tour de France by changing the way he trained for races and the way he climbed hills. The adaptation was not easy; it took a willingness to learn and to act, as well as no fear of trying something new or failing. As we get older, our bodies no longer work the way they did when we were younger. The biochemistry and hormonal support is simply not there anymore. We cannot continue to live our lives the way we did when we were younger. We must eat healthier foods, participate in weight-bearing exercise to promote bone density as well as muscular strength and endurance, and participate in cardiovascular exercise programs such as Spinning. All of these are adaptations that lead to a healthier, happier you. Lots of work? Yes! Worth it? You bet!

Champions are willing to innovate. Children are creative, inventive little people. They possess no preconceived notions about how things ought to be, how they are done. They are adaptable, fearless little sponges that are willing to find new ways to do things that will make their lives easier. It is not enough to learn from what has been done before; champions find new ways of doing things. When Johnny G began using heart rate training parameters, he was being an innovator. This was new research, and exercise programs at that time were not using such information. His desire to learn, willingness to act on what he learned without fear of failure, and willingness to adapt his training program to this newly acquired information lead to an innovative way of training that has become the industry norm today. In order for us to be heroes, we need to think about what we're trying to accomplish and discover new ways of doing it. Is your exercise program becoming boring? Try something new! If you always work out on the treadmill or the EFX machine, try a Spinning class! If you are an ardent Spinner, try a step class. The difference will make you appreciate Spinning all the more, and the cross-training will keep your body guessing, working hard, adapting and producing results!

Priya Shah, a motivational coach and author, notes "Winners don't do different things. They do things differently." We all have the capacity to change our lives for the better. We were born with all the tools we need to succeed and be champions. All that we need to do is rid ourselves of pre-conceived notions, fears and hesitations that prevent us from achieving our goals. By looking at the world with new eyes, a child's vision, we can tap into our inner hero.

Your fitness goals are at your fingertips. Come try a Spinning class and see why Johnny G deserves the title, "Hero". Come try a Spinning class and you'll begin to see that you are a hero, too.

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