One of my greatest non-cycling passions is film. Watching movies, studying them, writing screenplays, accepting imaginary Oscars -- I love film. When my cycling offseason rolls around, I actually have the time to catch up on my beloved indie flicks and off-the-beaten-path documentaries. Every October and November, I glue myself to the couch, heave my achin' legs onto some pillows, and run up the Apple TV bill.
The other day I watched "Anvil! The story of Anvil," Sacha Gervasi's 2008 documentary about the 1980s Canadian heavy metal band called, well, Anvil. The band was a leader in the music industry, paving the way for metal greats like Metallica, Guns 'n Roses and Anthrax.
Now, I am not a heavy metal fan. Nor do I gravitate toward drug-inclined, frizzy-haired men in their 50s. Not to mention, my personal recollection of the '80s are less glam rock and more "Fraggle Rock." "Anvil!", it seemed, would necessitate some Advil. But I watched it anyway. And absolutely melted.
I love this movie.
Only in explaining the plot to my husband did I come to understand how Anvil had struck such a chord with me, a female athlete in her mid-30s who listens to Bob Dylan.
"See, George, it's about this heavy metal band that was so passionate about its craft, but they ran into all these logistical nightmares in terms of management, and while their contemporaries were making it big, they faltered in securing bookings and all this basic tactical stuff. But even now, all these years past their prime, they're still trying to make it happen. They're so passionate about their music, and they work so hard, and they're giving it everything they have and they're still not giving up about making it to the 'big stage...'"
That's when it hit me. My God. I am Anvil. On wheels.
Anvil's still trying to make it to the big stage; I'm on my second attempt at Olympic qualification. Anvil is old for a band; I am old-ish for an Olympic hopeful. Anvil has trouble getting booked; I have to constantly harass UCI race directors to let me into qualifying events. They've slept in European train stations; I've slept in South American airports. Lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow's day job is driving a truck that delivers middle school lunch food. To fund my athletic dreams, I worked three years as a middle school substitute teacher and likely ate that very food. What are the chances? I truly understand you, Anvil, you beautiful, persistent weirdos.
All of a sudden, it was no longer strange that my kindred brothers were four old heavy metal rockers who wear Borat-approved leather clothing and play slide guitars with um, sexual devices. In fact, at the end of the movie, Anvil shot to the top five on my Lottery List. You know, the list of people and things you'd like to help with if you won the lottery. The homeless. The hungry. The sick. Global media equality for women's sports. Anvil.
Here, in this little indie documentary, I found a surprising affirmation of my life journey. The film isn't about heavy metal. It isn't about four dudes in a band, or a hard-rock lifestyle. It's about having a dream and sticking to it. It's about believing in yourself. It's about entertaining goals of greatness while coping with reality. It's about merging inner drive with driving a catering truck to make it all happen. It's about fighting the Triple D's: doubters, don't-ers, and inner demons. It's about having heart, no matter how many times it may get ripped out of your chest. It's about coming in last and having the courage to find your way to the next starting line. It's about knowing you have what it takes to win…and that you'll get there, eventually.
As far as I'm concerned, the members of Anvil are honorary athletes. At least metaphorically. And not just athletes: They symbolize anyone who has ever reached for the stars in any universe of talent. From Sundance to Sydney to Los Angeles, film festival audiences were as touched as I was, repeatedly honoring "Anvil!" with the prestigious Audience Choice award.
In about three months, my 2012 Olympic qualification attempt will be in full swing. I'll be just like Anvil, going on tour with my one-woman band of dreams. El Salvador, Belgium, Venezuela. I'll perform in places with few spectators, putting on a show for which there are no tickets, no stadium seating, no audience. Just a girl on a bike. When the tough days come, the pain sets in and the doubts arise, I—an English major with a 15-year journalism career—won't seek inspiration from Emerson, Churchill, or Molière. Instead, I'll be carrying the words of a 50-year-old metal head named Lips in my heart:
"Always believe that no matter how hard it gets, there's always a way."
Thanks, Anvil. From one dream chaser to another: You keep rocking, I'll keep rolling.