Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong in the 2010 Tour de France

Late last night came the news that Lance Armstrong was dropping his fight against the latest doping charges. This will surely lead to the stripping away of his Tour de France and Olympic achievements, making him the latest example (right or wrong) of an athlete who cheated and didn’t get away with it.

On his website, he posted a statement to the public and his fans, including me. In that statement, he said:

There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.

When I heard the news, I was very upset, because Lance Armstrong is one of our family’s biggest heroes. Everyone is aware of his greatest achievement, which had nothing to do with cycling: suffering from metastatic cancer and beating it into remission. This alone earned Lance a spot in our family’s hearts, as we regularly deal with disease that doesn’t easily give up the fight.

Lance lived, and winning a record number of Tour de France titles was just icing on his cake. From the sounds of his statement he feels the same way. His closing quote:

Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.

In essence, the entire statement reads, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” The USADA’s inquiry (or witch hunt, if you’re solidly Team Lance) had one of two outcomes: proven innocence or loss of athletic records. And now Lance is all but guilty — because if he wasn’t, why wouldn’t he have fought this to the end like any other person convinced of their own innocence? With his resignation, the USADA will proceed down the path of ruining his athletic record anyway.

Or at least that’s one way to look at it.

Understand that I have a bad history of sports heroes letting me down. It’s been seven years since the greatest of my youthful idols Rafael Palmeiro took advantage of my naiveté with his admission of steroid use. Others have also done the same since then, so it doesn’t surprise me anymore when athletes I admire end up being less than perfect. But Lance is an important hero to me. After a string of so many other athletes disappointing me, I wanted him to retain one last unblemished hero. That’s why his surrender upset me so much last night.

However, there’s a mantra repeated often in my household: “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.” I imagine that’s equally burned into Lance’s psyche, since one doesn’t overcome cancer as severe as his, plus its associated treatments, without some internal fortitude (just ask my sister). So in the end, I remember what matters in this life, just like Lance. Yes, Lance’s sports achievements are amazing. But what’s more admirable is that he’s alive, not six feet under, and that he’s fighting the disease for the benefit of others. He’s living a purpose-filled life not defined by what the USADA wants to take away. In other words, it’s not about the bike.

So who gives a shit that he’s in danger of losing all of his professional cycling titles, the things that most define his public persona? I don’t — at least not anymore. It feels good to know that he’s still a hero to me.

There are more-important things in life when you’ve walked away from a showdown with disease, as my family is all too aware of. So go hug your kids, Lance. Keep living your life in service of others. But try not to disappoint me again, pretty please, ok?

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images