Friday, January 18, 2013

Why I Still Love Lance...

Apart from conversations with friends and family, I've been pretty quiet about the whole Lance Armstrong doping issue. Mostly because just about everyone is quick to jump all over him and call him a cheat and a liar and a hypocrite. But let me first say that I'm not writing this post as an ESPN-watching sports fan. I am a cyclist. A cycling fan. And a huge Lance Armstrong fan. I've read his books, bought the Livestrong gear (wearing my yellow band proudly right now) and watched (and still watch) every Tour de France he won. I ride some form of bike and read almost daily and, hands down, my most prized possession is my vintage Tommasini road bike. Shit, I even started a Lance facebook fan page in college. Needless to say, I'm a little more than a "casual observer" of the sport. 

And through all of the finger-pointing and interviews and confessions, I can't help it. I'm still a fan of Lance Armstrong. I still believe he's for real. I still think he's an inspiration. Yes, he used PED's. But so did everyone else. Now that doesn't make it ok, but if it was the difference between winning and not, I'd do it. Chances are you would too. He won the world's toughest sporting event not once, not twice, but seven times in a row. And if everyone around him was cheating, he was the best of all the cheaters, right? I also think its important to note that he is the most tested athlete ever and never once during that time did he test positive for PED's or transfusions. And consider that many of the things he is being accused of doing weren't even illegal at the time. 

Bicycling, although a beautiful sport, is dirty. People have been doping for decades. What you put your body through over the course of a three week long bike ride through some of the toughest terrain in all of pro cycling sortof lends itself to getting help from "unnatural" sources. Am I disappointed in him? Absolutely. Does this tarnish his reputation in my opinion? Definitely. Am I glad he came clean? Of course. 

But, I'm still a fan. 

Now I'm not asking you to take my side or agree with my arguments about why Lance should still be considered a hero. I'm asking you to see, from the perspective of someone who has every reason to be let down by him, why he should still be considered a great athlete and inspiration to millions of people. 

So, here's why I still love Lance. 

Lance is the ultimate competitor. 
Call him an ass. A jerk. A bully. Call him what you want. When he was competing Lance had one job and one job only. He wasn't there to make friends with Thor Hushovd or play nice with the media. He was there to win. From the beginning, he's had every card stacked against him, from being raised by a hard-working single mother to getting cancer at an extremely young age, and its that chip on his shoulder that makes him the competitor he is, even if it does make him a jerk. He's smart, extremely disciplined, and he works really effing hard to win. Watch a clip of him giving Jan Ullrich (who was also found guilty of using PEDs, by the way) the now famous "Look" during the 2001 Tour and tell me that's not even a little bit impressive. Every time I have a tough climb on the bike, I'd be lying if I said that I don't pretend to be him, looking my competition in the eye, and kicking their ass.

And did I mention he won that race seven times?

He has raised millions for cancer research.
Since its creation in 1997, the Lance Armstrong's Livestrong foundation has raised over $470 million dollars for cancer research. And, unlike many other nonprofits, 81 cents on the dollar goes directly to its programs and survivor services. That's about half of what the Susan G. Komen foundation, which was created in 1982, has raised. Impressive? I'd say so. If you spend a bit of time on their website, you'll see that not only is it a fundraising powerhouse, its a phenomenal resource for people fighting cancer, as well as for survivors and family and friends of those afflicted. 

Everyone who rides a bike is safer because of him. 
Over the course of the last 10 years I've been riding, I've had my fair share of scares on my bike. Almost getting hit (more times than I can count), cussed at, honked at, you name it. I've even had some asshole throw a string of lit firecrackers at me. (Idiot pulled into a gas station a half mile down the road and we got his license plate number and called the cops. Sometimes karma works fast.) My dad has had people open their car doors on him and completely run him off the road into the ditch. I can't even imagine how much worse it would be if it weren't for Lance, and I truly mean that. I've heard people say he did for bicycling what Wayne Gretsky did for hockey. He brought it to America, popularized it and made it cool. Or, as cool as something that involves spandex and men shaving their legs can be...People now actually know what cycling is because of him. Even people in central Nebraska. They aren't as surprised to see me on the road. When I tell others I bicycle, people used to ask me "like Lance Armstrong bicycling". Yes. Like Lance Armstrong bicycling. I've never heard anyone ask if someone plays basketball like "Michael Jordan basketball." 

Finally, and most importantly, he is an inspiration to millions of people fighting cancer.
At the time of his diagnosis, he was given a 40% chance of survival. If that was the number I was given, I simply don't know how I'd react. He reacted the only way he knew how. To stubbornly fight it and for that reason many people look at him as the poster-child for being brave and strong and resilient in the toughest of times. He not only survived, he went on to achieve athletic greatness, PED's or not. Even if those same people who were inspired by him years ago, before the doping accusations and confessions, look at him now with anger and disgust, what does it matter? He, maybe in some way, helped them overcome at their lowest point. So isn't that a good thing? Isn't that worth something? They needed a real superhero to look up to, and Lance was just that. 

A few years ago, my mom was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Throughout the ordeal, she was so brave and composed and I am so proud of how she handled the entire situation...just like the person she is, with dignity and grace. When she found out she was going to have surgery to remove the tumor, she didn't look to a picture of my dad or her friends or her family for inspiration. She framed the above picture of Lance, taken after his own brain surgery, and put it in a place where she could see it and be motivated by it, every day. 

Lance was her inspiration. 

That, above all else, is why I still love Lance. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this!