Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gino Bartali:  Cycling for Humanity

Gino Bartali was enough of a cycling star to win the Tour De France twice---ten years apart---and be personal friends with Pope John the XXIII, to whom he gave lessons on how to ride a bike.  But what Gino did on and with his bike, was about so much more than fame.

Due to his racing success Bartali was already a European celebrity when the dark clouds of Nazism and Fascism began to shadow his world.  Because of his standing as a sports hero, though, he could have easily avoided the politics and suffering around him and waited out the war.  But Bartali loved what was best about his country and humankind too much to avoid engagement.  And when a friend asked him to become involved in the Italian Resistance, he agreed.

He began using his cycling workouts as a cover for his new calling.  He’d don his racing jersey with his famous name emblazoned across the back and ride hundreds of miles between Florence and Rome carrying secret messages, photographs, and documents---hidden in the handlebars and frame of his bicycle---to the network of safe-houses, churches, and convents in the resistance. His fame allowed him to ride without harassment.

In addition, Gino Bartali also hid a Jewish family in an apartment he’d purchased with his cycling prize money until the end of the war.

By 1943, he had also begun to literally pull Jews to safety by attaching a wagon with a secret compartment to the back of his bicycle and riding for the Swiss Alps with them in tow.  He told patrols that occasionally stopped him that the wagon was part of his new ‘training regimen.’
After the war, Andrea Bartali wanted to tell others about his father’s heroism, but Gino forbid it.  “You must do good, but you must not talk about it. If you talk about it you're taking advantage of others misfortunes for your own gain."

Gino Bartali was a remarkable athlete who cycled for Italy…but even more for humanity.  And that’s what made him not just a true champion, but an eternal champion.

Gino Bartali is a hero you should know. And I'm Dr. Ross Porter.

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