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January 21, 2016

I’m “What is undeniable is that here is a world class athlete who got cancer in his brain and nut sack and said “Screw that I am getting off that table” – Stuart Scott
This week is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of the Song, parashat Beshallah. Below is a summary from http://www.chabad.orgSoon after allowing the children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return, and the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s armies and the sea. G‑d tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and the children of Israel sing a song of praise and gratitude to G‑d.
In the desert the people suffer thirst and hunger, and repeatedly complain to Moses and Aaron. G‑d miraculously sweetens the bitter waters of Marah, and later has Moses bring forth water from a rock by striking it with his staff. He causes manna to rain down from the heavens before dawn each morning, and quails to appear in the Israelite camp each evening.

The children of Israel are instructed to gather a double portion of manna on Friday, as none will descend on Shabbat, the divinely decreed day of rest. Some disobey and go to gather manna on the seventh day, but find nothing. Aaron preserves a small quantity of manna in a jar, as a testimony for future generations.

In Rephidim, the people are attacked by the Amalekites, who are defeated by Moses’ prayers and an army raised by Joshua.

Last week I wrote in my blog about Stuart Scott and his battle with cancer. One of the amazing things he spoke about was his relationship with other athletes. People often criticised him for being too close to some of these athletes. He often said that the best interviews or chats he had with these famous people were general chats about kids etc. These are people like Barrick Obama, Tiger Woods, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong. Another amazing thing was that many of these athletes constantly kept in contact with him through his battle. One such athlete who really seemed to be there for him was Lance Armstrong, and Stuart Scott spoke very highly of him. Stuart believed that he was an unbelievable athlete doing what others were doing, but in no way condoned the use of drugs. 
What are your thoughts on Lance Armstrong?

I would like to write down a few of my own thoughts. 

Firstly as Stuart mentioned, Lance was a survivor. He beat cancer. He was nearly down and out, but survived and made a recovery and comeback to professional sport. I draw inspiration from the way he did just this. Most people with what he had don’t survive, never mind return to competitive sport. 
In a recent Podcast featuring ex-basketball champion John Salley he indicated that there are not too many sportsman you meet who have that look, makeup and attitude of a champion – “The eye of a tiger!” He mentioned people he had met with this quality like Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt and Lance Armstrong. Some people are able to use this and focus purely on there ability, but unfortunately Lance used it and trying to push the limits turned to drugs in his pursuit to be the best. I think this fierce determination to succeed is important, but must only be used in a “legal” manner and correctly focussed. 
Just as we as Jews love the land of Israel, Lance Armstrong is a massive supporter of his hometown of Austin Texas. Lance promotes and has a passion for his hometown. 
We as Jews have a commandment to give charity and we take this very seriously. Lance Armstrong set up the Livestrong Foundation and raised millions for cancer. This was one of the most successful charities ever and 10’s of millions of yellow bracelets were sold. This alone is reason to salute him. I have noticed many tweets by Lance where he has sent well wishes to cancer patients or families around the world and as I mentioned Stuart Scott was in contact with him all the time even when Lance was travelling the world. Lance even had him speak at a Livestrong function and through Livestrong Stuart became good friends with the former Livestrong CEO and cancer survivor Doug Ullman. 
Lance Armstrong took cycling to the next level. His training ethic was above and beyond. His former manager Johan Bruyneel was amazed that when most athletes did a climb once, Lance did it twice. “..But Lance has a different trick, and I have watched him do it now for years: he just works harder than anyone else alive.” – Johan Bruyneel. Lance was meticulous in his race preparation and race reconnaissance. In his will to win Lance took cycling to the next level. People like Jan Ulrich who was said to be the best rider of the generation, was beaten by Lance not on ability but by his training and fierce determination. 
In this weeks Parsha we read about the Jews crossing the Red Sea. One of the amazing characters was Nachshon, son of Aminadav. He was a tribal prince from the family of Judah. When the Children of Israel hesitated when the Red Sea had not opened/ split. A leader appeared in the person of Nachshon, leading his tribal column, Nachshon strode into the sea. Wading through the rising tide, the waters first reached his waist, then his chest and shoulders.At the very last moment, as the waters reached his nostrils, the Red Sea parted and the Children of Israel followed him into the sea. He understood that more than just faith was required. We are meant to do something ourselves to succeed. He had both faith in Hashem and fierce to determination to show the rest of Klal Yisrael that if there is a will to succeed you will ultimately succeed. 

This work ethic may have been in his make-up, but as a brash young rider and triathlete he believed he was the best and did not have to train. But Lance had a team of mentors and coaches who he learnt form and listened to. These people like Johan Bruyneel and Chris Carmichael moulded his career. “…Lance trains more than his competitors. He was the first to go out and actually ride the important Tour stages in advance. He doesn’t just wake up in July and say, ‘God, I hope I am ready for this race.’ He knows he is ready, because he has whipped himself all year long.” – Coach Chris Carmichael. We all need to learn from our teachers and mentors and strive to improve both our knowledge and personality by learning and education. 
Lance always said cycling was a team sport. As much as people may think it is an individual sport, he always acknowledged his “team” and teammates. Lance gave the prize money he won to his teammates as his sponsorships were his prize. Lance built his racing team to help him win. Even in a sport perceived as being individual Lance said it was a team sport. We all need our teams in sport, business and in our homes. In a recent Chris “Macca” McCormack Podcast he spoke how individuals are needed in sports. People like Muhammad Ali, Chris Gayle and Lionel Messi have all lifted the profile of various sports and teams. Lance was also one of these characters that cycling needed to lift it profile and he was a catalyst for a wave of younger US riders. But on the other hand no sports star is bigger than the sport. Maybe this was Lance’s problem?
Sportsmanship was important to both Lance and should it be important to us. I remember watching Lance stop when Jan Ulrich needed a toilet stop in the TDF and Lance giving a competitor a pat on his back when passing him on a mountain stage. Even in a competitive world (Derech Eretz) decency is needed. 
In a recent podcast of Lance he mentioned that loosing 20 pounds helped him more than the drugs. There is more and more evidence pointing to diet and performance. Recent write ups on TDF champion Chris Froome have pointed to his trajectory to losing 6-8kgs. Evidence says he alway had the potential to be a grand tour champion. But this weight loss helped him get there. Lance mentioned that some athletes are now pushing the envelopes, starving themselves and losing too much weight. This may not be healthy. 
One last point is that Lance loved and did all he could to protect his family, both during his career and now with his drug ban. In a recent Podcast he talks how he has tried to shelter his children and offer them counselling etc. This week we all were shocked with the death of young mother Dafna Meir in Israel, but what stood out was how she stood up and fought against her attackers to protect her children.  
  Traveling this week. The Jetstar plane was decorated with the picture of a bird. Specifically a black-naped oriole. Jetstar describes this bird as having the following characteristics – Tenacity, strength and determination. Nachshon, son of Aminadav had this character and knew that more was needed before the Red Sea would slit and so did Lance Armstrong have this characteristic. In the case of Lance Armstrong, unfortunately in his determination to be the best he succumbed to drugs, but was still so successful in other areas and should be recognised not only for his talents, but what he has done for the sport, cancer victims and the foundation he set up.  


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