Friday, March 02, 2007

Fighter Pilots and Cyclists

I met an elite top gun fighter pilot recently. The guy definitely looked like a fighter pilot. 6ft tall, chiseled, confident, tough...and of course, that tom cruise smile.

More importantly, he looked like a fighter. I am told that that is the real difference between the best pilots and the rest. The best pilots are fighters first and pilots second. They are insanely competitive and tough. They have superhuman mental strength, and extraordinary courage.

Neil Armstrong was a navy fighter pilot, besides being the first man to step on the moon and utter those famous words "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil flew 78 missions in the Korean war. On one mission, his F9F Panther was shot down (the first and only time) by anti aircraft guns after which his plane took a nose dive and sliced through a cable strung about 500 feet (150 m) up across the valley by the North Koreans. This sheared off an estimated six feet (2 m) of his right wing.

He was able to fly the plane back to friendly territory but due to the loss of the aileron he would not be able to land the plane safely, meaning his only option was to eject. Planning to eject over water and await rescue by navy helicopters, he flew to an airfield near Pohang. After ejecting, winds forced him back over land and Armstrong was picked up by a jeep from the airfield, driven by a roommate from flight school.

This event should have killed him, long before he had the opportunity to join the space program and eventually, to land on the moon, and utter those famous words. The man is a fighter.

Now on to cyclists. The other night I had the opportunity to listen to Lance Armstrong speak at a charity event. After surviving cancer, Lance went on to win the tour de france a record breaking 7 times. He is an amazing athlete. Superhuman. His VO2 max is second to none. His peak heart rate was measured at 207 bpm. He has an extraordinary ability to flush lactic acid from his spent muscles. He might actually be the next step in the evolution of the human race....Who knows.

One thing I do know, is that seeing him in the flesh reminded me of my recent meeting with that (unnamed) fighter pilot. It made me wonder if what really sets Lance apart is not his superhuman capacities, but in fact, his ability to fight. Fight through cancer. Fight to his first Tour win. Fight to his seventh Tour win. Fight to raise awareness for cancer with his livestrong campaign.

The man is a fighter.