Chris Horner may not be a name you recognize, but mention his name to a cycling fan and you’re sure to hear a gasp. Chris is a very special athlete.
This past September, Chris Horner won the “Veulta a Espana” or Tour of Spain, one of the three biggest races in the cycling world. It’s right up there with the Tour de France and arguably an even more challenging race course.
Last month my work colleagues and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride with Chris and then host him for a corporate speaking engagement. Throughout the day Chris regaled us with stories about becoming a professional athlete and what it’s like to compete at the highest levels. Interesting stories, but there was one in particular that gives us a glimpse into what it really takes to become a champion.
Long before Chris was a world champion, he was a poor teenager barely scraping by. He worked construction, live in his sister’s basement, and sacrificed jut about everything to fund his cycling dreams.
One day, he struck gold by getting an invitation to visit one of the greatest cycling coaches ever. Nothing formal, just a cookout at the coach’s house where Chris could meet the coach and his #1 protégé, Greg LeMond, who at the time had just become the first American to ever with the Tour de France.
Chris was ecstatic. The chance of a lifetime to meet the world’s greatest coach and the world’s greatest cyclist?!?! This was his to be the turning point in his day to day struggles.
Soon after Chris arrived and before he’d even bit into his hamburger, the world famous coach approached him, glanced him over, and said, “You’ll never make it in this sport, kid.”
Coach had never seen Chris race. For whatever reason that was simply the coach’s first impression.
Now, let me ask you, how would you feel if, as a teenager, your life’s dream was instantly crushed by the leading authority in the field? I now how I’d feel: like garbage. Can there be a harder kick to one’s ego?
Most of us would have left the party with our tail between our legs and gone into something safe like college, and even the super confident would be a little discouraged. But not Chris.
In his words:
“As soon as that coach spoke those words, I threw down my plate of food and walked out. I was ANGRY, very angry. I spent the whole drive home telling my girlfriend what an idiot that coach was and how I was going to prove him wrong.”
And prove him wrong he did.
Within a few years Chris earned a professional racing contract, and he has spent more time at the pinnacle of his field than most of us spend in mid-level management.
And that Vuelta a Espana that Chris won a few months ago? He was a just a month shy of his 42nd birthday at the time he won it, making him by six years the oldest cyclist to ever win a Grand Tour.
Chris used that anger as fuel. Not for a minute did he doubt himself. And after more than two decades racing, he crushes pro racers, many of whom weren’t even born at the time he had that run-in with Greg LeMond’s coach.
The question, kind reader, is how convinced are YOU that the company you represent or the passion you pursue is the BEST match for you? When you get rejected by a key prospect, when a “person of authority” questions your dreams.. How do you respond?
If the doubt you hear from others prompts you to doubt yourself, there’s one promise I’ll make: You are not going to become the best.
Which of life’s paths are you convinced you can perform better than anyone? Is it to become a champion athlete? A leading CEO? The world’s best parent? An impactful volunteer?
I once heard that if you have a dream so big that just thinking about it makes your heart beat stronger, that’s a “seed of greatness”. It was planted there for a reason, and it’s your responsibility to develop it into something earth-shattering.
Whatever that seed is, when you feel its excitement growing within you, pounce! Embrace it, nurture it, and think of a young, half-starved Chris Horner taking a stand that fueled him to become a world champion.
Thank you, Chris, for a ride and a story I’ll remember always.