Idealizing Imperfection (Why Lance is Still a Hero)

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If you’ve turned on the news or bothered to glance at any sports talk show in the past few weeks, it’s hard not to notice the amount of hot water Lance Armstrong is currently boiling in. Not only does the USADA have mountains of evidence against him; former teammates including his main sidekick for quite some time, George Hincapie, are testifying that not only did he take drugs, he attempted to spread and sell them.

That sure is a slap to the face – your best buds testifying against you in court. Lance has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and erased from the record books. A quick downfall for someone that was a hero to so many.

Lance is an idol, especially to the cancer survivors benefited by the Livestrong Foundation. He’s a superhero in the eyes of many kids and athletes across the world. Lance is a lot of things to a lot of people. Now that he’s assumed a different position at the bottom of the rankings in the sporting world, many are quick to cast him out and forget all that he’s done. Just the other day I overheard a dad talking to his son about what a scumbag he really was and how the dad “knew all along” that he was a doping cheat.

I’m calling bullshit.

The Conception of a Hero

A few weeks ago, I published the first new blog on my new site outlining the monomyth presented by Joseph Campbell about the journey of a hero. In most cases, heroes exist in our imagination. We dream of dudes flying around in capes saving the damsel in distress. Lance embodied the many ideals we admire in supernatural beings.

First, he overcame great adversity with conquering cancer and all that jazz.

Second, his meteoric rise to fame was largely out of his control. In general, we don’t like individuals that scheme and manipulate their way to the top. Most superheroes assume their powers to no fault of their own. The Hulk, for instance, got all green and strong after he was hit with some gamma rays trying to protect a teenage girl. Lance stumbled upon his athletic prowess through years of hard work and an innate ability to consume more oxygen and last longer than most other humans.

Third, he was unbelievably consistent. It’s almost as if you knew Lance was going to win on the first day of the Tour de France similar to how you just know Batman is going to defeat Bane in the end. Lance emerged as a frontrunner in physical performance when he survived cancer. Then came the amazing stories of him riding his bike in the hospital and we admired him for his determination and perseverance. Then, the unbelievable happened – he won the most competitive cycling race in the world. To the surprise of many, he kept winning for a total of seven titles and became the most decorated Tour rider ever.

That’s a fairy tale if I’ve ever heard one.

For awhile, Lance stood on a pedestal untouched by even the purist of humans. He created a vocal support system for cancer patients donating millions of dollars to fund research. With his seemingly honest and forthright character, he quietly (read: loudly) brought cycling to the forefront of our attention.Think for one second, how much you would know about cycling had Lance not won a single Tour de France.

Chances are that you wouldn’t know much.

Lance put cycling on the map. In doing so, he brought throngs of new viewers and fans and encouraged millions of others to hop on two wheels and start pedaling. Simply put, the world would not be the same today without Lance. Now that it’s come out that he likely took performance enhancing drugs, everyone is quick to dismiss his accomplishments and toss him into the pit of despair.

Think for one second what you would have done in his shoes. Try to envision the amount of pressure on you to continually succeed. You have a following of cancer survivors writing you each day to wish you good luck and let you know what an inspiration you are to them. I say this knowing it’s impossible for you to ever imagine what it’s like to walk a mile in Lance’s shoes. It’s impossible to know the pressure that comes along with that type of admiration.

My point is this: at the end of the day, most people likely would have taken the drugs too.

Not because they are cheating, lying scumbags, but simply because it’s the quickest way to make a difference in the world. I know I would have. Lance had a chance to make a difference in both cycling and the treatment of cancer, albeit he did so in a dishonorable fashion – admire him for trying.

Furthermore, I’d like to point out that they aren’t even able to pass along his titles to others that finished the Tour right behind him because like Lance, so many of them fell prey to the same temptations. Jan Ullrich can test positive and hardly anyone cares, but the moment a cloud of doubt surrounds our beloved Lance, we cast him out like a leper.

My Closing Thoughts

Unless you can honestly say that you’ve been in his situation and chosen differently (which an extremely select few individuals have), I don’t believe you have a right to lambast Lance for his personal choices. He’s not the first, and he certainly isn’t the last to take performance enhancing drugs. He’s still an extraordinarily talented human being as he has demonstrated by performing at a pro level in both cycling and racing triathlons.

Any doping Lance took part in still didn’t reduce the amount of pain he endured climbing the Alps during his seven Tour wins.

Furthermore, it’s unfair to say that he has single-handedly ruined the sport of cycling. He’s surely cast a cloud of doubt, but every serious fan had their suspicions long before this whole Lance debacle. Lance is just another case of the bad scientists being ahead of the good ones which will forever be the case.

This piece is meant to share an opinion, not start an intergalactic war. I would love to hear your condensed opinion on the issue. However, please do so in a polite manner. I’m entitled to my thoughts as this is my blog. 

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