With all hope for personal victory virtually lost, American cyclist Lawson Craddock had every reason to succumb to his injuries, to exit the race, and to heal his broken body. Instead, he turned his own tragedy into a victory for a host of strangers in the city that he loves.
Two riders fell out of the Tour de France during Stage 2, one had been battling stomach problems, and the other had suffered a brutal crash. That left 176 riders to cross the finish line and to begin preparation for the Team Time Trials on the third day of the race. With a broken shoulder blade, a bit of road rash, and a number of stitches over his left eye, Lawson Craddock still chose to be one of the rider who survived to start Stage 3 instead of one of the riders who went home.
“It is during these times, in the absence of confidence and of hope, that we find ourselves left with only grit.”
Craddock, a rider for the Education First cycling team, suffered a punishing fall on Day 1 of the Tour less than halfway through the long course. It seemed that another rider had accidentally dropped a water bottle at the Stage’s feeding station. Unable to see it and unable to maneuver to avoid it inside the tightly packed and rapidly bottlenecking peloton, Craddock hit the water bottle and toppled to the pavement.
He was back up and on his bicycle so quickly that the hordes of television cameras never even caught the crash. The first images the world audience saw of Lawson Craddock after his fateful accident showed the blood pouring down the left side of his face. He would ride all day with a huge, open gash spilling blood down over his brow and into his left eye; there wouldn’t be time until the stage had concluded for the more than one dozen stitches he’d need to mend the wound.
The cut above his eye wasn’t even Lawson’s most painful injury, though. Although it wouldn’t be confirmed until the medical examination after the stage, Craddock had cracked his left shoulder blade. This meant that every tiny knick, break, or bump in the surface of the road would reverberate through his injured hand and arm up into the broken bone in his back and shoulder. Over and over again for hundreds of miles. That’s a daunting prospect, the thought of which could break even the toughest of competitors.
Despite his slumping and broken left shoulder, the imbalance it caused, the cycling power it made impossible, and the blood streaming down the length of his gaunt baby face, Lawson Craddock pedaled on, catching up to the peloton and remaining with them through the Stage 1 finish. This feat alone was remarkable in terms of determination and toughness, but it would pale in comparison to the grit Craddock would show the next day.
On the morning of Stage 2, Lawson Craddock’s chin and lower lip quivered violently, and his eyes welled up with tears. He was stricken speechless with grief as he attempted to explain the disappointment he felt after all of the time, effort, and emotion he’d dedicated to a 21-stage race he’d already lost in the very first stage through no fault of his own. For a moment, between heroic but futile battles with the road, Lawson Craddock fell apart at the tragedy of it all.
Facing the cruel prospect of being unable to effectively compete in the race he’d been preparing a lifetime for, Lawson Craddock had to accept the unimaginable reality that, in all probability, he may not be able to finish the race at all. There was no personal victory left for Lawson Craddock in the 2018 Tour de France. His defeat was swift; it was decisive; and it was inevitable.
It is during these times, in the absence of confidence and of hope, that we find ourselves left with only grit. The concept of grit has gained popularity in recent years, a word tasked with capturing that fighting spirit and strength that allow us to find benefit and salvation in the face of overwhelming adversity. Stripped of the effects of his talent, his training, and his health, Lawson Craddock could have abandoned the race. Instead, he switched gears to a reliance on pure grit.
In one of the most heroic and noble reversals of perspective I’ve ever witnessed in sports, Lawson Craddock announced that he would transition from riding for his own glory and success to continuing to punish his own broken body for the benefit of others.
With a steely determination in his eyes, Craddock declared that he would continue riding every stage that he was physically able, despite his injuries. The incentive, he explained, was a new commitment he set for himself in the wake of his own personal devastation: for every stage he finished, he would donate $100 dollars to the hurricane relief effort in his hometown of Houston, Texas. Taking to social media, he challenged the world to match his contributions. Lawson Craddock took his own very physically and emotionally painful defeat and embraced it as a means for helping others.
Lawson’s determination to ride for other people fueled an arduous ride through Stage 2, battling to stay with the healthy peloton for over 113 more miles. He not only finished the stage, he remained competitive. Even after he’d qualified as a technical finisher of the Stage, he continued to ride through to the finish line. Rival and competing riders encouraged him with good natured pats and verbal support as they rode beside him, recognizing his struggle and his sacrifice.
As he rode, Lawson Craddock continued to carry additional obligation on his injured shoulders. The Houston hurricane victims were not the only cause dependent on the young cyclist for help. Craddock’s cycling team desperately needed his contribution to the Team Time Trial race in Stage 3. So, while other riders wrecked, fell back from the pack, and exited the race on Day 2, Lawson Craddock pedalled onward toward Day 3, bent on assisting his team.
In Stage 3, Craddock’s grit showed through once more. Displaying difficulty with turns and curves and anything that caused him to have to shift and control his weight on his bicycle during warm-ups, Lawson rode valiantly through the Team Time Trials, not only finishing and donating another $100 to Houston hurricane relief, but also boosting his cycling team further ahead in the standings with his effort, inching them closer to the leaders and to victory. On his third day in excruciating pain, Lawson Craddock rode for his team and for the people of Houston, and without the chance of any personal glory.
He won’t win the Tour de France this year. In fact, he may not even finish. Lawson Craddock’s competitive defeat at the 2018 Tour equated to years of training wasted in just a few dozen miles. Picking himself up off the pavement, broken and bleeding, Craddock was left with nothing to show for his unimaginable efforts but disappointment and grit. There’s something special about a person who accepts that situation and decides to move forward at the cost of his own comfort and well-being, using that grit to benefit others.