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The Happiness of Pursuit: A Father's Courage, a Son's Love and Life's Steepest Climb

The Happiness of Pursuit: A Father's Courage, a Son's Love and Life's Steepest Climb

by Davis Phinney, Austin Murphy, Lance Armstrong (Foreword by)

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For two decades, Davis Phinney was one of America’s most successful cyclists. He won two stages at the Tour de France and an Olympic medal. But after years of feeling off, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. The body that had been his ally was now something else: a prison. 

The Happiness of Pursuit is the story of how Davis


For two decades, Davis Phinney was one of America’s most successful cyclists. He won two stages at the Tour de France and an Olympic medal. But after years of feeling off, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. The body that had been his ally was now something else: a prison. 

The Happiness of Pursuit is the story of how Davis sought to overcome his Parkinson’s by reaching back to what had made him so successful on the bike and adjusting his perspective on what counted as a win. The news of his diagnosis began a dark period for this vibrant athlete, but there was also light. His son Taylor’s own bike-racing career was taking off. Determined to beat the Body Snatcher, Davis underwent a procedure called deep brain stimulation. Although not cured, his symptoms abated enough for him to see Taylor compete in the Beijing Olympics. Davis Phinney had won another stage. But the joy, he discovered, was in the pursuit. 

With humor and grace, Phinney weaves the narrative of his battle with Parkinson’s with tales from his cycling career and from his son’s emerging career. The Happiness of Pursuit is a remarkable story of fathers and sons and bikes, of victories large and small.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"I am one of countless people inspired by the remarkable courage and optimism that have characterized Davis Phinney’s career in cycling and his approach to living with Parkinson’s disease. The Happiness of Pursuit introduces us to those who have inspired him — from passionate spectators on a mountain roadside in France to his son, a second-generation champion racer. This book will resonate with anyone who has ever dug deep for strength to reach the top of their own mountain, wherever and whatever it may be." — Michael J. Fox, actor, Parkinson's disease activist, and author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

"The test of a true champion is not when things are going well, but when they are not. How they meet and overcome the challenge, and never give up. Davis Phinney’s book lets us see and feel this. A true champion. A remarkable life. Thank you for this gift." — Patrick Dempsey, actor and cycling aficionado

"He won more bicycle races than any other American. Then Davis Phinney faced the onset of Parkinson’s disease, which again called on all of his courage as a winner to fight his newfound enemy. The Happiness of Pursuit is a true story of a famous family who has experienced every emotion. A great read." — Phil Liggett, "the Voice of Cycling"

"In this touching personal account, Davis provides inspiration to the millions of families worldwide—mine included—who join the Phinneys in never giving up hope that we’ll find a cure for this disease." — U.S. Senator Mark Udall

"Davis Phinney always brought great intensity to his racing, which propelled him to the pinnacle of the sport and which now drives him as he confronts his disease. The Happiness of Pursuit is a fabulous story of courage—a must-read." — Jim Ochowicz, general manager, BMC Racing Team

"The Happiness of Pursuit tells the incredible story of Davis Phinney, one of the most talented riders of his generation, with a career marked by many successes. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease he faced the challenge with the same determination, courage, and willpower he demonstrated as a world-class bicycle racer. For Phinney, every step in his son Taylor’s cycling journey has been a great joy, a victory, and perhaps a fulfillment of destiny." — Eddy Merckx, former professional cyclist and five-time Tour de France winner

"What happens when you take an amazing family of athletes and bring in one of America’s best writers to capture their stories of achievement, perseverance, and hope? You get an instant classic." — Bob Babbitt, cofounder and editor in chief, Competitor

"Davis Phinney and Taylor Phinney. Father and son. They have in common an incredible drive to succeed. The Happiness of Pursuit shows how a father and son can become an unbeatable combination, building a strong relationship by conquering challenges both on and off the bike." — Axel Merckx, former professional cyclist and current team director of Trek-Livestrong U-23

"The cycling talent scouts’ salivary glands went into hyperdrive when they saw Davis Phinney for the first time. But what they slowly came to understand was that the era of the pedestaled despot was over. The untouchable tyrants like Hinault, Saronni, Moser, and Roche would have to yield to more democratic leaders. Davis Phinney heralded a more open, clean, and passionate sport that we now see having worldwide appeal. It was my great fortune to have been a teammate of Davis, who is one of the cornerstones of my personal passion and enjoyment of our sport." — Bob Roll, cycling commentator

"Davis Phinney is one of my heroes. This book explains why." — Rick Reilly, author of Sports from Hell

Kirkus Reviews

Renowned bicycle racer and founder of the Davis Phinney Foundation gives the gift of life.

A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease would hit anyone like a ton of bricks, but for Phinney, who was known on the professional-cycling circuit for his speedy sprint finishes, the impending loss of his fit, 40-year-old body seemed especially unfair. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Phinney coupled his talent for endurance with the "never give up"philosophy he learned from his father's courageous battle with cancer, and that resilient style emanates throughout this memoir. A sprinkling of mild expletives, humor and some parenthetical asides make the author's voice immediate and real, as he describes how he went from being the first American to win a road stage in the 1986 Tour de France to a broadcaster at the height of his career who was unable to hold a microphone. More than 1 million Americans live with Parkinson's—a disease with no known cure—but symptoms can be managed through diet, exercise and treatment options, such as medication or deep brain stimulation, an operation which Phinney underwent. Now 51, the author celebrates each day with his wife and children, and his son's rising career in the bicycling world is yet another triumph.

An inspirational story for anyone, especially those living with Parkinson's.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt


I didn’t know where the kid was going. I just knew it was
going to be interesting. I was standing next to my twenty-yearold
son Taylor on the dais at an awards banquet in Davis, California.
I’d just introduced him to a crowd of three hundred or so
people at a ceremony hosted by the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.
USA Cycling had named Taylor its 2010 Male Athlete of the Year.
 As he made his way to the lectern, someone fired up a Lady
Gaga tune, inspiring T to shake his booty in the direction of the
crowd, which roared with laughter. The prospect of giving an acceptance
speech didn’t exactly rattle him.

Taylor could have talked about any number of victories: in the five
years he’s been racing a bike, he’s won five world championships.
Instead, he told the story of “the Text,” a message I’d sent him as he
struggled through a tough French race called the Tour de l’Avenir.
After winning the prologue — a short, solo effort against the
clock — he’d crashed heavily on a rain-slicked descent toward the
end of the second stage. As he lay dazed and bleeding on the road,
his shorts and jersey shredded, he was ringed by anxious onlookers:
his team director, Patrick Jonker, and several paramedics, all
of them Tour de France veterans. They urged him to abandon the
race, to board the waiting ambulance. Shaking them off, T climbed
back on his bike. He went from the yellow jersey to the lanterne
rouge that day — from first to last. After returning from the hospital
with a half mile of bandages on his left side, he took the start
the next morning.
 He raced in pain that day and the next. On the eve of Stage 5,
the most mountainous and difficult of the race, he sent me a text,
describing his condition as “pretty f-ed.” His will to keep racing
seemed to be wavering. “If they go crazy on those climbs tomrw
and I get dropped . . . not sure if I’ll finish.”
 “So I send that to my dad,” Taylor told his audience, “and I
get back a text about this long.” He held his thumb and forefinger
about five inches apart.
 While laughing along with the crowd, I also reflected on how
much time it had taken me to peck out a five-inch text message.
Since my diagnosis with young-onset Parkinson’s disease about
ten years ago, my hands don’t work as well as they used to.
 Taylor wanted to bail on the race, is what it boiled down to, and
he wanted my blessing. Which was not forthcoming.
 “Hmmm. OK. See how it goes,” is how I began my reply. “Start
with the mindframe that you’re gonna finish the stage, tho, otherwise
you’re done for sure.” And I proceeded to lay it on thick. If he
was capable of competing, he needed to honor his commitment to
his team, to show his true character, to remember what his mother
and I had instilled in him from the beginning, the lesson my own
father had drilled into me: Phinneys don’t quit.

Before beginning this memoir, I held in my head a CliffsNotes version
of my father as a kind of cold, close-minded scientist who impeded
my success as much as he enabled it. The exercise of writing
this book made me realize, fairly quickly, that while it made
my journey seem slightly more heroic — Look at everything I’ve had
to overcome! — the CliffsNotes version was incomplete, and unfair.
 Damon Dodge Phinney had more depth and generosity than I
long gave him credit for. His love was often disguised, but always
present. Even as he disagreed with what he viewed as my risky,
wrong-headed career choice, he supported me. In his way. He took
time off from his job to drive me to races from Kentucky to Canada
to California. His fervent wish that I wasn’t racing didn’t stop
him from peppering me with advice on how to race better. One or
two days after my competitions, he would slide unsolicited, single-
spaced typed letters under my apartment door. Disapproving
of my line of work (he would have much preferred to see me
head off to college) didn’t preclude him from holding — and sharing
— strong opinions on how I went about my job. After giving
them a brisk once-over, I usually tossed them, believing I knew
better. As I grew older and recalled his advice, I was struck by how
spot-on and incisive it often was.
 Damon was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 1987.
It was grim news, and, in its way, a blessing. Rather than a death
sentence, he heard a gong that jarred him out of his lifelong stoicism.
It was in the final fourteen years of his life that my father
truly learned to reach out to people, to show the world his inner
light, even as he fought his cancer like a Spartan at Thermopylae.
In so doing, he set an example of grace and courage that turned
out to be his greatest gift to me, as I cope with my own chronic

“Phinneys don’t quit,” declared Taylor, explaining to the audience
why he gutted it out in Stage 5 at the Tour de l’Avenir. Because
he made that decision, because he pushed through the pain, because
he endured, he learned something vital. T stayed the course,
worked hard for his team, and, following that ebb, he began to
flow. He felt stronger at the end of that eight-day race than he had
in the beginning. And the form he found in the final stages of
L’Avenir helped him ten days later in Greenville, South Carolina.
There, he won his first professional national road title, eking out a
0.14-second victory over Levi Leipheimer in the USPRO time trial
championships — a stunning outcome. Levi is one of the best in the
world in that discipline. A fortnight after Greenville, Taylor won
the U23 (under twenty-three) world title in the same event in Melbourne,
 Those races down under were his last as an espoir. (That’s a
French word for a promising young rider. Translated literally, it
means “hope.”) T was primed for his next quantum leap — this
time to the top of the pro ranks. He’d recently signed a multimillion-
dollar deal with the BMC professional racing team. Funded
by Swiss businessman Andy Rihs, BMC is directed by my old boss,
Jim Ochowicz.
 It was Och (rhymes with “coach”) who created the 7-Eleven
team I rode with for nine years, from its early-’80s success in this
country through its pioneering days as the first North American
team to contest the Tour de France. Twenty years after my last race
in the red, white, and green tricot of Team Slurpee, as we were
known, we entrusted Taylor to Jim’s care.

To follow Taylor’s races in Melbourne, I found myself devouring
Twitter updates at 3 a.m. in a Glasgow hotel. While he was in Australia
for Worlds, I was in Scotland for the World Parkinson’s Congress.
In addition to serving as a featured speaker at three of the
sessions, I represented the foundation that bears my name. Meeting
with leaders in the PD community, I engaged in our ongoing
conversation on how to live better with this disease.
 Sixteen years after I stopped riding a bike for a living, I’m still
in a race. But this is a race I can’t quit, or even take a break from.
Like an insidious vine, Parkinson’s has crept and coiled its way into
every corner and recess of my life, slowing me in all ways. The disease
has forced me to see the world differently — to recognize and
seize the small moments, the hidden grace notes available to us every
 day. That explains the tag line, or motto, of the Davis Phinney
Foundation: Every Victory Counts.

Three of Taylor’s world titles, incidentally, have come in the individual
pursuit, an event contested by riders who start on opposite
sides of a banked oval track. The Happiness of Pursuit is more than
just a pun on my son’s track specialty. On a deeper level, “pursuit”
denotes action. It is the opposite of the inertia and resignation
that have settled on too many members of my tribe, as I refer
to my tremulous collective. “Pursuit” in this context means taking
responsibility for your own happiness. It is the pro-active seeking
out of what I have come to call “curative moments.”
 Living the last two decades with PD, I’ve learned to savor and
magnify these moments. I appreciate that I have more control over
the course of the disease than I once thought, and that these lesser
triumphs provide their own source of cure. And that is the heart,
the crux, the essence of my message to the tribe.
 With a chronic illness, it can be all too easy to live in the shadows,
to become absorbed in the down times, but in bike racing, as
in life, it’s imperative never to renoncer a l’espoir — to give up hope.
To concede, to abandon the race, is to miss out on those charged
instances, those gratifying moments of victory, those few seconds
that sustain us. Those stories, and the lessons therein, make up the
happiness of pursuit.

Meet the Author

David Phinney is a former professional cyclist, a TV commentator, and one of three Americans to win multiple stages of the Tour de France. In 2000, he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's Disease. Today he and his wife, Connie Carpenter Phinney, an Olympic gold medalist, run the Davis Phinney Foundation. 

Austin Murphy is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.

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