Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Happiness of Pursuit by Davis Phinney (with Austin Murphy)

Quick Version:
This is the story of three generations of Phinneys-a story about life on a bike, life in a family, life in the spotlight, and life lived with devastating illness.
Long Version:
In the mid-1980s Davis Phinney and his 7-Eleven team cohorts took European cycling by storm as they demanded respect for American cyclists through their actions in the peloton.  As a teenager in Germany I followed their rise with great excitement-I even subscribed to Bicycling magazine-not for the gear guides and training tips but for articles about these young men.  In this memoir of a life well lived, Davis Phinney takes his reader through all the excitement of the eighteen years that he experienced The Life, as he calls it.  But this book is so very much more than a cycling memoir.
One might make the logical assumption, given the book’s title and the career of the author, that this is a book about bicycle racing.  And it is.  Those who avidly follow the sport will find lots of edge-of-your-seat action here.  However, the expression “life in the saddle” definitely has more than one meaning to Davis Phinney.  It is also a book about more than one man-The Happiness of Pursuit is really the story of three men, the author, his father, and his son.
The author, as many know, was a world class cyclist.  What many do not know is that Davis Phinney is afflicted with an early onset form of Parkinson’s Disease (the same illness from which Michael J. Fox suffers).  Davis takes us from the height of cycling’s glory to the depths of life in the grip of The Body Snatcher.   From a life of unparalleled physical potential to the inability to tie his shoes.  Along the way he refuses to let us pity him, instead providing us with an intimate portrait of personal courage such as I have rarely seen so well expressed in words.  The grit that carried him to the top of mountains on a road bike now carries him through the toughest challenge of his life, and he is an inspiration.  He credits two things with his ability to embrace this unexpected life: cycling and his father.
Damon Phinney was a rocket scientist.  Literally.  He was not a terribly involved father, and Davis always felt distance between them.  Until his dad was diagnosed with the Big C.  Cancer changed Damon in the most profound way imaginable.  He went from being emotionally unattached to immersing himself in the life of his son, from never smiling to smiling at everyone he met because he felt it lit up the world.  More than anything else, he set an example for his son regarding how to live with chronic illness, and not just live, but live an enhanced existence.  Damon got on a bike after his diagnosis and rode some of the same challenging road courses that his son competed on; Davis attributes the fact that he lived an unheard of nearly ten years post diagnosis to Damon’s refusal to hole up and die.  Damon Phinney is beautifully eulogized by his son; the reader can easily see the one in the other.
Taylor and Davis
(photo by Robert Beck)
The final Phinney the book follows is Taylor, Davis’ son.  Taylor is said by many to be one of the biggest talents in cycling today and is likely to be an Olympian to watch in London in 2012.  Davis gives readers a heart-wrenching look into how difficult it has been to see others handling the physical aspects of shepherding his son’s career.  Despite many high points in this often moving book, the story I will never forget is the one in which Davis relates a story of being in the follow car as Lance Armstrong (who was a mentor to Taylor) puts Taylor through his paces on a training run.  Davis, gazing through the window, experienced a bittersweet moment-thankful on the one hand for Lance being there for Taylor, but jealous too of the man on the bike beside his son.
Towards the end of the book, Davis sums things up:
Happiness comes from the pursuits within your life-whether those dreams are lofty Olympic ambitions or those smaller everyday goals that I now set for myself.  In fact, happiness occurs most often in those moments when I’m pursuing nothing more than allowing myself to be absorbed in the moment.  Just being.  

(quote from unedited galley and subject to be changed)
You will want time to ponder and a tissue box handy as you read this one.  I guarantee that while parts will make you want to stand up and cheer others will bring you to your knees in tears.  A moving, glorious tribute to life in all its forms.

Star Rating: absolutely five stars
Audience:  This book has so many aspects, so much to offer-everyone will find something to relate to here.

Release Date: 1 June 2011

1 comment:

  1. Wow - 5 stars?
    This book looks very interesting, I might just have to look into it someday! I like non-fiction and memoirs. Thanks for the great review.