I was working on plans for a project at a clients house in Austin, Texas. These particular clients I really enjoy visiting with because they are fascinating individuals with a wide breadth of experience and they can tell a great story. One of the husbands hobbies is triathlon, so he and I get to talking about training and diet and many other rabbit holes. As we were buttoning up our meeting at his kitchen table, where their home is designed with a modern California feel to it, we got on the topic of dreams. Specifically dreams meaning what we want to accomplish in life. About half way through the conversation he stood up and walked over to a bookshelf and pulled out a book and brought it back over to the table. The cover was blue and it showed a guy on a bicycle next to a car. The title was Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While).
He explained that it was a fast paced read, was funny, and is about a guys ‘dream’ of becoming a pro cyclist (Phil Gaimons Website). Yes, like the doping filled sport of cycling. I told him I would need to check it out and it sounded interesting. As I stood up, I turned to him and asked, “By chance does the author of that book have a nickname of Cookie or Cookie Monster?”
He laughed and said, “That’s him!”
I explained that it’s weird because I had just listened to a podcast where the author, Phil Gaimon was featured on it and I was able to listen to his perspective and get a bit of insight on his new book. I had already read over 40 books this year and this would be the first one that came recommended twice, so it seemed like destiny that I pick it up.
I walked to my truck and before pulling away I downloaded Phil’s book on Audible. That’s when the journey began. In less than 48 hours I was done. Not because it was short but because Phil hypnotized me.
With 2017 about to be behind us, I would say my theme or mantra to this year was, “share your story.” This year I have read and listened to books that made me stronger mentally and physically. Books that made me a better husband or friend or boss. Books that made me more efficient. All of them helped me grow and at the end made me feel ‘good.’ Isn’t that what we all want? We want a happy ending! We want our dreams to become a reality. And with the other books I have read this year, they ended the way I WANTED them to end. They ended in victory. They ended on the podium.
Problem was, Draft Animals made me question more than it provided answers. It gave a completely different perspective on life and the journey through it. He didn’t fabricate any stories or spin them to be more glorious than they were. He gave a glimpse into real life. You feel his pain in the amount of work a professional athlete puts in before becoming great and with the real possibility of never making it BIG. You get a perspective that I have never experienced in a book before on relationships from his agent, girlfriends, parents, teammates, land lords, and super stars in the sport of cycling.
Phil paints this beautiful picture that if it were at an art gallery you could look at his painting and appreciate it but if you stand in front of the painting it comes to life and you experience it. All of the sudden you experience all the emotions of life in this single book. You feel victory, doubt, pain, suffering, happiness, joy, discontent, let down, breakthroughs, depression, loneliness, hope, anxiety, achievement, contentment, peace, warmth, cold, hollowness, and fulfillment. You experience life with Phil. He becomes your friend, brother, or son.
I finished the book on Tuesday morning around 5:30am. It was dark, cold and I sensed it was foggy. When the audio went out, it was quiet. I can’t quite explain it but all of those emotions came back. I felt frustrated and hopeful at the same time. Wrap your head around that concept. When I finished the other books, I put them on my book shelf or leave them in audible as a reminder of what I accomplished.
This was the first time that I felt so moved by the book that I wanted to ask some questions to Phil. So I did. I sent him an email. I wasn’t expecting a response but I just needed to send it to say, ‘Thanks’ and at least make myself feel like I did the right thing.
But of course, life is funny, so to make my story even more dramatic, of course, Phil responded. Here is what he said:
Your 31 now and still young on all accounts but at the end of your life what do you want written on your headstone?
“I’m not religious at all so it’s not something I’ve thought about. I want to live well and do unto others and all that. The best tombstone text I’ve heard is from comedian Norman Lear: “Even this I get to experience.””
Your life was/is complex. It took sacrifice to attain your goals but it seemed lonely. Do you have a best friend? If so, who?
“I have lots of great friends I’ve picked up over the years. Each year I’d get to know someone I expect to be in touch with forever. There’s not one I would say is my best. That sounds like a kids thing, but there are a lot of people that I go to for different things and fill a certain spot in my life, who are all very important to me.”
You lived in a world of doping but made the choice to abstain. Aside from your tattoo why/how did you make it through?
“It’s something I never sought out, but it wasn’t pushed on me to abstain from. I think cheating would ruin the idea of sport to me. The whole point of winning–the reason it feels good–is because you earned it. Cheating would take that away. I’d never want to cheat, because I assume it would take the joy out of a result I might have earned. I think most real athletes see it the same way, and it’s a bummer that so many cheaters go to the top in my sport.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be as good at anything as I was at bike racing as far as where I stand in the world, but I think my writing has been far more impactful than anything I did on the bike. It feels better to hear someone enjoyed my book than it did to win a race.”
Your story is full of paradox in life and stories within stories which makes it so enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. But regarding dreams, if you are speaking to a 9th grade classroom what would you tell/recommend to them?
“Yeah, I wish I had a short answer to that. A big point of the book is for readers to go on that journey with me and decide for themselves. I don’t think that’s something you can get anywhere other than within.”