Here is a life lesson from the cycling road race at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: trust others, work together, reap results.
Rafal Majka of Poland (men’s event) and Mara Abbott of the United States (women’s event) were both overtaken in the final stage of the race by cyclists that were working together, feeding off each other’s draft – something NASCAR fans understand well.
Apparently, it’s important with cyclists, too. Both had built up substantial leads until the very end of the race.
At one point in the women’s race, Mara Abbott was riding in tandem with Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands. Both of the riders are excellent climbers and both added to their leads as they climbed the summit of Vista Chinesa, a 635-meter climb.
From the summit, the riders had only 14.8 kilometers (9.2 miles) to go but the 5.3 kilometer (3.3 mile) descent was a twisting breathtaking road where the bikers’ speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour before it flattened out beside Copacabana Beach for the final 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles).
Vieuten accelerated her descent down the mountain leaving Abbott behind, or perhaps Abbott was more cautious with her descent. As a light drizzle began to fall, the more cautious approach proved wiser.
With a chase motorcycle behind her, the live camera caught Annemiek van Vieuten’s crash for the world to see, knocking her unconscious and out of the race.
Her misfortune likely cost her a medal, but it may have cost Mara Abbott a medal as well. With Vieuten out of the race, Abbott was now in the lead all by herself.
The bad news was that she was now in the lead all by herself. She had no one to work with, no one to collaborate with, no one to switch off the lead and help her conserve energy.
Behind her, three women were working together and were slowly making up ground. They stayed together down the summit. They stayed together beside Copacabana Beach. They unselfishly traded places so the same person did not have to do all the hard work.
Then, with the finish line in sight, three women sprinted passed Mara Abbott for the medals. Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands won the gold. Emma Johannson of Sweden won the silver. Elisa Longo Bonghini of Italy won the bronze.
Abbott cannot be faulted for the race she pedaled. She found herself in a position where she was all alone with no one to work with, and she must have felt she had no choice but to push on and give it every ounce of energy she had and hope it was enough to make it to the award stand. In the end, sadly, it wasn’t enough.
There have been times in my life where I have felt I didn’t have anyone to collaborate with. I felt I didn’t have anyone I could trust with my feelings or decisions. It didn’t keep me from working hard. It didn’t keep me from giving my work and my ministry everything I had.
However, I thought I had enough within myself to make things work, to push the goals over the top.
I thought I was doing the right thing by going at things alone and not allowing others to share the lead so I could draft, conserve some energy, replenish my soul, so I could be a better and stronger leader. My approach left me with a tank running on empty.
Now let’s be clear. Abbot beat 64 other riders. However, that wasn’t her goal. Her goal was to make the podium.
When we go at life alone and decide not to trust or collaborate with others, we burn out without reaping the results we want. Sadly, and even more alarming, sometimes along the way, we are the ones that crash.
When we work together, learn to trust one another, to be unselfish in our leadership roles and in the work load, we can have what it takes to push across the finish line.
Many more of our goals are realized this way. There is more joy and much less burnout.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.