He’s behind now, but he’ll burn it up in the later stages. Most guys can’t handle the hills, especially at the end of the race.
My dad said this with a rare but sly smile on his face, all while sitting comfortably on the sofa in front of his TV. Few things in life spoke to his soul like The Tour De France and Lance Armstrong’s cycling style.
Even though I appreciated the Tour De France, I thought it was crazy for someone to sit down and watch every hour of every stage. Watching the entire Tour De France can consume 21 days of your life. Why not save time and catch the highlights on ESPN?
For my retired father, however, the Tour De France and Lance Armstrong’s performance represented his philosophy on life: winning and success emerge from the same point where pain and struggle begin. People win by pushing through this intersection, and the people who can push themselves the farthest find the most success and self-satisfaction.
My father never thought God exceedingly blessed him physically or mentally, but he understood he could win by enduring what others could not. Success isn’t a measure of natural talent, but success is determined by a state of mind – something every person can control.
So, imagine my father’s pleasure to watch this man who overcame testicular cancer go on to win the Tour De France seven times in a row. Not only did Lance Armstrong push pass the obstacles and unfair circumstances of his personal life, but he also won the Tour De France by outlasting his competition. Granted, Lance Armstrong was physically talented, but he competed against other great athletes. It was his resilience that set him apart. Dad could watch someone like Lance Armstrong for days.
Like Lance Armstrong, Dad overcame his own personal obstacles in life. He lost his mom early in life and grew up in poverty in Newburg, New York. From what I recall, he went to school, fought off bullies, threw a nasty left-handed curveball, constantly worked, and helped raise his younger brother and sister. Few things were handed to my father, and he fought for every scrap of life he’s come to enjoy. Dad didn’t enjoy pain, but there was no satisfaction greater than enduring pain and finding success on the other side.
Dad also became an impressive athlete in his own right. In his late twenties, he started running to lose weight. Images of my dad running flood my memories from as far back as I can remember. Dad ran every day.
In Lake City, my friends constantly told me how they were in awe to see my dad running when they were at the supermarket or driving into town. Dad didn’t pick up his feet that high when he ran so some of my friends referred to him as “shuffle feet Sheffield.” Some of my favorite memories with my dad are the few times I rode my bike with him on his runs into town. I was exhilarated to take part in his superhuman feats. Most people needed cars to get to Publix, dad only needed his feet to get anywhere in Columbia County.
A few years ago, I realized dad didn’t just jog during the week; he pushed himself to become a feared competitor in ultra distance marathons of over fifty miles when he was younger. The superhuman running feats I witnessed growing up were mere shadows of his former glory. Imagine reading stuff like this about your father in newspapers from Tallahassee for the first time when you are in your mid-twenties.
“In local running circles, Dave Sheffield is known with an equal mix of awe and envy as ‘Iron Man.’”
“What blows your mind is he has the ability to run forever.”
“I’m probably in the top 80 or 100 in my race nationally.”
This guy they are talking about is my dad? Are you kidding me?
In his prime, Dad averaged six-minute miles for marathons, he averaged just over seven minute miles for races over 50 miles, and he could run 100 miles within 24 hours. Dad never gained national prominence or created a fad of wearing “Davestrong” bracelets, but what he accomplished in his thirties is something that few people will ever have the ability to duplicate.
Dad and Lance Armstrong were both amazing athletes who overcame great personal odds, however; there is one thing that sets my dad apart – integrity. Dad never cheated or took short cuts. He never doped to become a better athlete. Dad never cheated on my mother or put his personal desires before our family. Unlike Lance Armstrong, dad didn’t just endure the hills and valleys; he ran an honorable race. There will never be an asterisk next to my father’s name questioning what he has accomplished or what he means to my family and me.
What bothers me is dad always jokes about being the perfect example of mediocrity, but this lie couldn’t be farther from the truth. Running aside, dad always had a job, he always provided for my family, he’s been married to my mother for over thirty years, he never missed a baseball game or turned his back on me or my sister, and he’s become an amazing grandfather or “pops” to my nieces and nephews. Few men can make these claims.
Now that I’m thirty and have already fallen short of my father’s accomplishments, I’m beginning to understand just how great he is. Dad is the foundation of my family and has always been the one cornerstone we could depend on and grow from. How lucky have I been to call this man my father and to be able to learn from him my entire life.
Dad, I know we can be our own worst critics. However, I hope after reading this you can begin to understand just how special you are to me and how much you mean to our entire family. I know our personalities are different. I know because of this we don’t act like best friends. But, there are two types of people you treasure in life: people who you can share your emotions with and people who inspire you to become great. You are the latter and you will always be a hero to me. In my mind, you will always be a greater man than famous athletes or people who took shortcuts to become successful. You are one of the few men who accomplished so much the right way. Enduring the race is one thing, but you have always been able to finish the races with your head held high.
I love you and I can’t wait to see you in the end of July. Whether we watch a horrible movie you choose or you drill me on current politics and events, I can’t wait to spend time with you. If your health is good enough, maybe we can even go for a short run – I promise I’ll try to keep up.
Love your son,
-Happy Father’s Day-