McAbee: Seven times 70: Armstrong like other ruthless, ambitious champions
January 17, 2013
I don’t know Lance Armstrong but I’ve shared some space with him. He and I both grew up in adjacent towns that occupy 20 square miles of the same pale prairie and eyed coincidental sunsets growing up. We both eloped to escape an arranged engagement with a domineering but benevolent suitor, the state of Texas, to pursue folly in our youth and wider and more open spaces abroad.
I connected with Lance. I never knew him. I’ve seen him out a couple of times. But, I followed his story and let myself become inspired by it. I went and heard him give a commencement at Tufts University. He regaled the crowd with his little yarn of resurrection leaving out one little detail – it was impossible. That is, for a human being.
He cheated. Then, he denied it for years. But I’m not going to condemn the man here. Heck, if you’ve read his autobiographies or followed him at all in the press, you get a sense that he was ruthless, tough, ambitious and very good.
He competed in a sport where the leader of a team demands the submission of his mates. They are to sacrifice their own chances of winning or competing for him, the ace. His domestiques served the champion day in and day out, acting as a wind break, schlepping food and water for him and holding his bike steady so he could piss on the fly.
It was not like this honor was bestowed upon him because he was a nice guy. He was a talented, hard, driven, calculating and selfish rider. He would do anything to win and he did. In truth, he cheated the other cheats who were competing at the time. How is that different from a war general, the President, some corporate raider type or a career politician? Does anyone actually play fair?
To me, it appears that not even God does. All men created equal? How so? In value? By what measurement? In talent? In intellect? In theory perhaps.
Do we do well to teach our children any different? Are we better off throwing them to the dogs to see who survives to be a champion? Shouldn’t we teach them to fight for what they want in this world? Would Lance Armstrong himself give up the years of success, the trips around the world, the celebrity, the adoring public, the money, the luxury of his heyday to avoid the court of public opinion now that everything is out in the open? No!
Anyone who has had cancer will admit they’ve thought about their mortality. They’ve reorganized their priorities and what other people think of them is irrelevant. Yeah Jeff, but what about all of those cancer patients who put their hope in him and his Livestrong organization? I say they still have a role model who came back, fought hard, had some successes and failures, and started an organization that has helped others. You and I should do so well as to “livestrong.”
Cycling will survive Lance Armstrong. It’s a great sport, beautiful in its simultaneous simplicity and fury. The best thing we can do for cycling is to forget about the past and look to this season. I, for one, will be tuning in this July to watch another Tour de France and in August when the sport comes to Colorado.
Whether we forgive Armstrong or not is not the question. Of course, we will. The only thing we hate more than a cheater is a liar who won’t admit it. Now that he’s admitted it, the Roaring Fork flows under the bridge. I am sure Armstrong feels better already.
Jeff McAbee is a former Summit County resident now living on the Front Range. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.