Endicott's metaphor may not be that farfetched. Lugbill, after all, is as squeaky clean as Galahad himself. He was cocaptain of his high school football team. In 1985 he married his high school sweetheart, Gill Bickers. You probably guessed that she was one of the school's cheerleaders. Says Gill, now a high school biology teacher, "Jon wins because of plain old-fashioned tenacity and desire."
Lugbill has a good, solid job in the environmental programs department of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He has a house in Bethesda and a golden retriever named Jasper. "I like things basic," he says over a basic cheese pizza. "I'm not screwed up. I'm not on my third wife and doing coke. That's no way to live." Both Jon and Gill are graduates of a good, solid school, the University of Virginia.
He pauses, sips a glass of water—basic tap water—and says, "Ten years from now, I don't know what I will be doing. But I know two things for sure—I will be happy and I will be happily married. We will keep our act together. Not for a month or a year or a few years. Forever. I feel you control your mind. You don't let your mind control you. Life is like walking a high wire. If you don't look down, it's fine."
It is no wonder that Lugbill was chosen, in 1985, to appear on the Wheaties box, a public affirmation of his wholesomeness. In fact, he was on more than a million boxes. "But being on a cereal box in no way compares to a world championship," he says. Marriott Hotels recently signed him up (four years, $40,000) as its spokesman. Can the American Dairy Association be far behind?
Sometimes Lugbill runs among the monuments in Washington, D.C., stopping to do sit-ups at the Lincoln Memorial. Sometimes he rides to work on his bike. A basic bike. Mostly, however, he paddles. And when race courses have to be set up, part of the drudgery of the sport, Lugbill is there. "If you weasel out," he says, "people won't like you. I try to do my share, and a little bit more." Of course.
Late one evening after a workout, an exhausted Lugbill talks about the basics. "A lot of famous people get screwed up, don't they?" he says. "I'm definitely not going to let that happen. Paddling a canoe does not make me a great person. If you want to be great, you have to go out and do great things for other people." He falls silent and listens to the crickets chirp along the feeder canal. He looks around and says, "This is where I want to be, at this time, in this place."