A lesson from the Tour de France: Everyone wins when we work as a team

Special to Lowcountry LifeAugust 4, 2012 

You wouldn't think that hundreds of guys cycling through Europe for several weeks would be that interesting, but I admit I became engrossed in the Tour de France last month.

A friend convinced me to watch some coverage after explaining that there was more to cycling than going forward really, really fast. Tuning in, I learned that in addition to the overall winner, each day (or stage) held its own contests. Coverage included stories of complex strategies for winning sprints, stages and "king of the mountains." Plus the falls were spectacular.

The biggest surprise to me was that cycling is a team sport. I had previously assumed that team sports necessitated passing some sort of object -- like a ball or baton -- to another person on your team and if your team won, you all got a trophy. However, I learned that cyclists compete as a team, even though only one person can be the overall winner. This is something that the teams agree upon before beginning. So, to take a widely known (albeit, infamous) example, Lance Armstrong's teammates signed on knowing that he'd be the one to "live strong" while the rest of them "lived supportively," allowing him to draft behind them and protecting him from the other cyclists.

I was intrigued to watch this year's winner, Bradley Wiggins, work with his team on the 2,173-mile ride to Paris. As he kept his overall lead in the race, he also aided his teammates in securing their own titles. I found the most touching moment to be when he set up his teammate Mark Cavendish to win the final sprint down the Champs Elysees, allowing Cavendish to secure four consecutive stage victories (which, while not a yellow jersey, is still a pretty big deal).

Their strategy struck me as the opposite of how I think of winning -- at both a competition and life in general. Simply put, if I had the chance to plow through the finish line in Paris, I think I would've taken it, rather than strategize to help my teammate share the spotlight. Similiarly, I take the last cup of coffee without asking my roommate if she wants it, the last slice of pizza without asking others if they are still hungry and -- lest these examples all be food-related -- sometimes I don't put the grocery cart back in the corral in the parking lot. At the heart of all of these actions is the belief that my desires, time and to-do list are more important than what everyone else wants or needs to accomplish. To put it less poetically, I'm selfish.

This "me-first" attitude begins not with obviously awful acts such as stealing candy from a baby or Christmas from Who-ville, but with putting oneself first in these seemingly insignificant ways. Yet, in Scripture we are challenged to look at the example given by Christ and to "Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others" (Philippians 2:3-4). While putting others first doesn't come naturally, it is essential to being a decent person and Christ-like.

At the end of the Tour de France, Wiggins' Team Sky ended up with three winners on the last day -- first and second for the whole tour and first for the final stage. This was a result of not just speed, but putting the interests of teammates first. When applied to our lives, we should ask ourselves, which moments have been of the greatest value to us: the ones in which we excelled or the ones in which we helped others excel?

Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.

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