Lieven's Blog

What's on my mind...

An extraordinary man...

clipboard-with-pencil_16x16 Some time ago I had the chance to have a talk with Eddy Merckx. The American magazine, Velonews, called him once “the greatest and most successful cyclist of all time.” He was, and still is a hero and an inspiration to many people all over the world.

It was nice talking with him. We sat in an office in the building where the legendary Merckx bikes are made. On the table were coffee and cookies and I asked him questions about his life and his career. We talked about his many victories, he won five times the Tour de France and many other great monuments of cycling. I realized that he must have heard my questions already a million times. However he was calm and relaxed and he patiently answered all the questions.

When I asked him if he could tell a story that most people wouldn’t know yet, he had to think for a while and then he said: “I actually never go to Italy on vacation anymore.” It was because once somebody in the streets of Italy recognized him and this meant the end of his holidays. People were coming to his hotel to see him and he was chased wherever he went because people wanted to have his picture or a signature. This story tells a lot about how much he has meant for the Italian cycling sport. It is a long time ago that he cycled for an Italian team, but it seems that many Italians still have very positive memories about it.

Somewhere during the conversation I asked him if I could take his picture and he said yes right away. I was surprised by his reaction. Normally when I ask someone if I could take their picture, the first thing you can observe is that they change their posture, they check if their hair and cloths are in position, find excuses why today is not a good day, etc. (I actually behave just the same). Eddy Merckx however didn’t move at all when I took the pictures, he just continued telling his story. No posing of any kind and he didn’t check his cloths or hair. It reminds me of what I once read in Annie Leibovitz’s book “At Work”. She describes how she asked Sylvester Stallone to take of his shirt in the middle of a photo shoot. He explained that if she had mentioned it earlier he would have waxed his body and done other things to prepare himself. So even people who are accustomed to show their body in public, like to be prepared when their picture is taken.

After taking the pictures we talked for a while and I realized that in front of me sat a man who earned so much fame in his life, and yet it didn’t make him presumptuous or vain. During the whole talk I didn’t even once felt that I was talking to a “superstar”. He behaved as a kind and respectful man who was conscious about what he had accomplished in life but didn’t feel the need to brag about it. So I wanted to know his secret and asked: “Eddy, why is it that after everything you have established in your career, after so many articles and books that are written about you and the fact that many generations of professional and amateur cyclists look up to you…, you have managed to stay so normal and natural?”. I was ready to write down his answer and to discover the secrets in the art of modesty. However, a bit to my disappointment, his answer was short and simple: “Well, if you start to fly high in life you risk to fall very deep. If however you stay with your two feet on the ground, you can’t fall deep.”... It was a nice answer and I couldn’t help smiling.

Although I still don’t have a clue how he does it, his answer shows that he is a person who did extraordinary things in his life and yet didn’t loose his authenticity. To me as a psychologist, this is what makes him a truly extraordinary man.

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