The toughest thing for a top competitor is to step down when he's winning.
Lance Armstrong came back from cancer to win a seventh consecutive Tour de France title, and then retired from bicycle racing. He didn't wait for the inevitable decline of his skills; he went out on top.
We've got a winner in our midst who needs to think about putting away the cycle, too.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood had a lung transplant last year to fight the debilitating affects of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He had been increasingly mobile since then, visiting the district more frequently even though he was still tethered to an oxygen tank.
This past weekend Norwood had more surgery, to remove a small cancerous tumor from his other lung. The tumor was found during one of his frequent checkups.
Norwood's office released a statement in which he is quoted as saying, "This surgery is nothing compared to last year's transplant. I intend to be out of here and back at work in short order."
His eagerness to get back to work is admirable, and it's just like Charlie to think first and foremost about doing the business for which he was elected.
The statement goes further, reiterating Norwood's intention to run for re-election in the redrawn 10th District, which now includes Athens. Charlie wanted to face Athens Democrat John Barrow, but Barrow moved to Savannah to stay in his current district.
No matter who steps forward to challenge him, there's little doubt Norwood will win again next year. Even so, it might be time for Charlie to focus on his own health. That means grooming a replacement, rather than working on re-election.
Don't get me wrong; for purely selfish reasons, I don't want Charlie to retire. He is a great representative and a good friend. He's a strong, conservative congressmen, especially on fair taxation and illegal immigration. He's exactly the kind of man we need in Washington.
And as difficult as it was for him at the time, it made sense for Norwood to seek re-election in 2004. By the time his doctors told him the IPF had worsened enough to require surgery, it was too late for him to bow out and bring another candidate forward.
In spite of his health problems that kept him from campaigning in the district, Norwood easily won re-election. And next year will likely yield the same results.
Should he run at all? Yes, he's good for us. But Norwood at some point ought to say, "Hey, it's time to retire for my own health. The heck with this campaigning; it's time to find a fishing boat and a rocking chair." It's time for Charlie to do what's good for him.
Norwood addressed this question when he visited this past summer, before the tumor was discovered. He said he wasn't ready to retire, that there is still too much work to do.
I've got news for him: He'll never be finished with everything he wants to do in contentious Washington.
There are plenty of good candidates waiting in the wings for Norwood to step down, and lots of time for them to make plans to replace him. None of them will make a peep so long as Norwood is campaigning.
For that matter, none of them will urge him to step aside, even if it's for his own health. I guess that leaves it up to me.
Norwood's successor will have a tough climb to meet his stature, just as it's going to be nearly impossible for anyone to match Lance Armstrong's success. The district will miss Charlie greatly when he retires.
But there comes a time when even a man like Norwood has to look out for No. 1 and let the 10th District take care of itself. He deserves to go out on top, too.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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