Andre and Lance

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Andre and Lance

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

I had a once-in-a-sports-journalist's-lifetime experience recently. Let me set the evening up. I've reached my 26th year of covering sports. I started with ABC Sports as announcer, at the height of their Roone Arledge golden era. I traveled the Wide World of Sports, covering events where the athletes, no matter how minor the sport, pursued their excellence until they reached the pinnacle of achievement. The World Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo. The World Water Skiing Championships in London. The World Cross-Country Skiing Championships in Switzerland. Several Olympic Games. Ten years of constant inspiration.

Later on I worked as a correspondent for Fox Sports, with the great fortune of putting together 15-minute mini-documentaries. One example was a probe into how different it is for men to coach women, which took interviewing Mia Hamm, Steffi Graf and many of the great women athletes of our time.

For public radio, and the New York Times, and CBS News Sunday Morning, my job these days is writing personal-opinion columns. Imagine the freedom in expressing outrage or admiration or analysis, anything I want, week by week... a job which requires the occasional call to Chris Evert or Brett Favre or Alex Rodriguez.

It's been a high time, all in all, these years immersed in the sports world. A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to pause and assess which athletes have moved me most, in terms of spending a bit of time with them in person. There have been the larger-than-life heroic icons. Muhammad Ali. Althea Gibson. Billie Jean King. Wilma Rudolph. Rocky Marciano. And some I have just plain loved to watch. Boris Becker. Joe Namath. Yannick Noah. There are the ones who brought chemistry and personality and flair to their respective games. John McEnroe. Julius Erving. Walter Payton. The list is long and I realize how very fortunate I've been to have spoken with these champions... and seen up close at least a little bit of what has made them tick.

But when I got the chance to conduct an on-stage conversation with Andre Agassi and Lance Armstrong a couple of weeks ago, it was the first time I've ever felt star-struck. We sat in three leather chairs in front of 1500 people in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel here in Los Angeles. I was in the middle, prompting them to expound on their philosophies of life.

I would look to the right and when Andre talked about preparing for this summer's Wimbledon and U.S Open tournaments, he said he had no vision whatsoever of winning either one. He said he's never, not once in 20 years, gone into a match thinking he's going to win it. All he cares about, all he's capable of, he said, is living this very moment in front of him. So now it's May. He's sprinting. He's lifting weights. He's working on his foot speed. He only knows what he's doing today, not what might happen at Wimbledon in July. When he spoke, I was transfixed. As if I was under the spell of a Zen master. At times, I literally forgot where I was and what my job was that night. Then I'd look to the left and become equally mesmerized by Lance as he talked about raising a billion dollars for cancer research. Lance has been called arrogant, even cold. And I'll admit I have found him to be a somewhat icy individual at times. But the other night I realized that steely gaze and somewhat humorless demeanor is not only what won him the Maillot Jaune seven times. It's what got him past cancer and what will get him to his billion-dollar dream. He simply doesn't accept limitations.

Andre also has raised $52 million to date for underprivileged children. To my mind, these are the two most evolved athletes alive today. Two athletes who have captured 100% of their potential... and then taken their fame and elevated hope for thousands of people. Honestly, it was humbling to sit with them, even for just one hour.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad