There are some films you watch that just get you going. You know the ones: they finish too quickly and make you want to go and do something (run, swim, become an Outlaw and live in Sherwood Forest…that kind of thing). It’s the same for professional athletes, too. And as former Ironman World Champion Tim DeBoom explains, there are plenty of films out there that can provide you with triathlon inspiration.
By Tim DeBoom
I like movies of all types. I can sit though almost any movie and find something I like about it, but I tend to gravitate to those I can relate with as an athlete. I’m not against popping in an Ironman DVD or one of Lance’s tour victories to watch while I spin out some intervals on the trainer, but when I need some real motivation, I reach for the character movies about athletes. The determined tortured souls who eventually find their way (or not) are the characters with whom I can relate and who ultimately inspire me.
Few of my favourite films have been praised as Academy Award quality, but they definitely make my personal Oscars list. There is something about these movies that successfully gets inside the head of an athlete and brings it to the screen. Very few have anything to do with swimming, biking or running. Not that there are many great endurance sports movies anyway, but it shows that, no matter the playing field, athletes share similar traits that help them succeed. Now it’s time to pull up your Love Film account and start updating your lists.
“Downhill Racer” is one of the best movies ever made about sports, largely due to Robert Redford’s portrayal of Olympic skier David Chappellet as a man so complete yet so tragic. He demonstrates that to be a champion, you have to be, to some degree, fanatical about your sport. Chappellet is so focused on winning and success on the slopes that he is incapable of much else. He seems to experience life only through the pure exhilaration of winning. It is one of the rare movies that keeps you wondering whether he’ll win or lose, and what his reaction will be to the outcome. The movie is also a great inside look at the lifestyle and passion of pure amateur athletes, as it was based in the late ’60s before any professionals were ever involved in the Olympic Games.
“Vision Quest” is another favourite of mine. In my school, the swimmers and wrestlers were always the first to arrive at school early in the morning for practice and the last to leave in the evening. We did not always agree on things, but when this movie came out, one thing we could agree on was that we were the hardest working athletes in the school.
Louden Swain, played by Matthew Modine, is a school wrestler who sets a goal so lofty that everyone considers him crazy. He says it is because he is almost 18 years old and has not done anything “great” yet. The soundtrack and training scenes alone should be enough to keep this movie in your rotation. Add to that Louden’s unwavering commitment and the response of his team mates and friends rallying around him, and you have a movie to help you through the tough patches in your own quests.
Another, often overlooked, but all-time great movie, is “For Love of the Game,” starring Kevin Costner.
In this, Costner’s third movie about baseball (the others are the fantastic “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams,” which are both honourable mention candidates for this list), he portrays Billy Chapel. Billy is a prodigy pitcher who has played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. The film takes place on the mound of Yankee Stadium as the 40-year-old pitches in what may be his last major league game. He fights his failing body and reminisces about his career and the sacrifices he has made to reach his goals. Even if the movie storyline doesn’t appeal to you, it is worthwhile just for the “clear the mechanism” scene that shows his focus on the mound in the hostile environment of Yankee Stadium on a day when all the odds are stacked against him.
If the above films are my current top three, the following are on my honourable mention list. “The Natural” is another ageing athlete-themed baseball movie, starring Robert Redford. It tells the story of a man born to play the game and the obstacles he must overcome to prove that he is “the best there ever was.”
“North Dallas Forty” and “Any Given Sunday” are the two most realistic American football movies ever produced. In the former, when Nick Nolte’s character gets out of bed after a game the previous day, you can almost feel the abuse he has put his body through. It’s probably what it feels like post-Ironman on a daily basis.
“Wind,” with Matthew Modine, is fantastic as well. It’s set in the world of America’s Cup sailing and the defining quote of the film is, “The only thing better than winning the Cup, is losing it, and then winning it back.”
The final film, I’m not ashamed to say, brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. “Running Brave” tells the true story of American Indian named Billy Mills, who won the Olympic 10,000 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Actor Robby Benson does a phenomenal job playing the hero. He rises above the prejudices he faces and his own family’s tragic legacy to become a true American icon. If you sit through the finale of this film and don’t want to go out for a run afterward, then there really is something wrong with you.
This list of favourites continues to grow, as I’m always on the lookout for new motivation. However, I have to admit that I also include movies that have nothing to do with sports. Movies have been there when I need a reminder to get out the door and get busy living my life. If you need a jumpstart in this direction, you might want to try “Joe Versus the Volcano,” “Stranger Than Fiction” or my favourite, “Joe Dirt.” After all, as they say in Hollywood, “All of life’s answers can be found in the movies.”