I watched a clip the other night of an MMA fighter. There was this great shot where he is standing, arms raised in victory, with blood running down his chin from a busted face. As the camera rotated around him, I caught a glimpse of a wicked case of cauliflower ear. Years of having his ears crushed and smashed has left him with this puffy mess dangling from the side of his face. I felt my face crinkle up as the Valley Girl inside of me said, “ew.” I can guarantee when this lean killing machine is grabbing a Cosmo with his fight buddies at the local mall…they see this bloated meatball as a symbol of his dedication to being a real fighter.
It is funny to me how every interest in life has it’s “things” that are unique, and typically not understood by the outsiders. Girl swimmers have these wide, tough shoulders that you would see on a man. What do they do about it? They wear a tank top. Runners are clearly terrified the slightest little bit of fabric would stand in their way of free leg movement, suggesting that they wear shorts with a slit that goes…all the way to the top. The right breeze, and these slightly more modest than a French bikini running shorts become a display case for things you can’t un-see. On the opposite side of the spectrum, current basketball trends have them playing in a full square yard of free flowing fabric that hangs to their ankles. It’s going to take a lot of words to convince me that this flapping mass of material serves any practical purpose. Tennis…in a skirt? Really. I picture a group of stuffy old white guys in the Wimbledon head office puffing on pipe tobacco and speaking to the scientific support for such a dress code. Is there anyone else out there that questions the need for a baseball manager to wear the same uniform as the players? Is there ever a moment when they’ve exhausted all nine pitchers and he needs to take the mound? In every other sport the guy on the field coaching things is wearing a suit and acting like the boss. Something about scoring a goal in soccer make you rip your shirt off. Your registration for adult softball league should come with leg brace because you will be pulling something. The sidelines look like a scene out of Platoon as theses slightly less than fit middle-aged dudes stand there showing off their ace bandages…and continued commitment to “Lenny’s Lugnuts.” Relatively new, but notable nonetheless is the rugged lumberjack beard that inevitably forms when you join a cross fit gym.
It’s during these times of observation that it is good for a little self-reflection. Because I’m certain there’s nothing strange about slipping on some skintight spandex shorts with an hourglass shaped pad in the crotch. Before I pull those things all the way on, I should probably slather on a little putty like substance called “chamois butter” to aid with chafing. Nothing says comfort like climbing onto a two-inch wide hard bicycle seat while wearing a pair of squishy-padded shorts. Last time I felt like this was when I had the most unfortunate deception afforded a ten-year-old when something went wrong…way wrong. However, instead of feeling shame as I backed along a wall to a point of escape, I proudly mount my bike so that this glorious display is at eye level for the world to see. The spandex shorts are best accentuated by an equally taunt jersey that never lies about the extra five pounds I’m storing around my middle region. Just like the other sports (aside from huge long basketball shorts) I am able to offer a reasonable explanation for these choices. But, until you’ve coated yourself in elk pee and made the perfect mating call to bring in the game, you’ll never fully understand the right way to perform the perfect hunt.
One distinctive that stands out to me among cyclist is their legs. Unless you are talking to my brother, and we are back in junior high while he shamelessly mocks me in front of his buddies…and a few girls, I’m a pretty hetero-minded man. I’m married to a fantastically delicious woman, and have never questioned where I stand on this issue. However, this doesn’t keep me from noticing, and admiring a real cyclist’s legs. I’ve been watching the tour for the last 20 days. It is a pretty regular statement around our house to hear dad say, “whoa, look at his legs!” I was standing in the line at a fast food restaurant the other day and nudged my wife as I pointed out that the guy in front of us “rides.” I think it should bother me more than it does that during cycling season I find myself looking at dude’s calves trying to decide how committed they are to riding bikes. I’m not sure what the long-term impacts will be to my son as he is forced to reason through the fact that his dad has a keen eye for…strong man legs.
To be clear, I’ve never looked at a cyclist’s evident strength and arrived at any more thought than simple respect. Much like a hacked-up fighters ear is born from enduring beatings; there is really only one way to get this strong, time in the saddle.