Today is the Fourth of July. Chances are if it’s the Fourth of July, I’ll be on the bike. And if I’m on the bike, I’ll probably be wearing the Stars and Stripes. So it was today as I cranked up to Concord and rode along the Battle Road where it all started, past the North Bridge and up Monument. I’m not a crazy patriot type. But I’ve lived and competed outside of the United States. For a long time, I tried to assimilate myself into foreign cultures and languages. I raced on a French team. I didn’t speak English for weeks on end. But the more I travelled, the more my perception changed of what it is to be an American.
I’ve been celebrated — and assualted — for being American. I’ve been cheered — and spat upon. If you’ve ever worn the colors of your country in a foreign land, you might understand. If you’ve ever stood on a stage or the podium while they’ve played your national anthem, you might understand. If you’ve ever been hit in the face by a rock or water bottle thrown at you because you were American, you might understand.
For me it’s a mix of pride, hope, anger and shame. In my sporting life, there has been nothing more satisfying than wearing the US team jersey in international competition. It made me want to do great things. But the results were often defeated by bad luck. I got sick. I had mechanical problems. I couldn’t always defend the policies of the US that drove the negative reactions. Couldn’t always wear the jersey that I loved. And I could never live up to the expectations — as an athelete or as a citizen.