Way back when I was still married, my young son spent an entire summer getting up at before dawn hours to drag his comforter into the den and curl up and watch the Tour de France. He watched every stage, knew about all the riders, the speed challenges, the mountain climbing. He was so inspired, whether by the athleticism of the riders or the endless ads for exercise machines on the channel, that he wanted to try bike racing. We looked into bikes, I’m sure he dreamt of biking across very pointy peaks and sloping valleys.
Lance Armstrong seemed untouchable, the all-clean American guy with the lantern jaw and a fierce training regimen that allowed him to win. He even had a Harlequin Romance name, one deserving of heroism. He created the Livestrong movement , putting his name on cancer survivors everywhere, yellow bands that expanded to other colour bands and filled the world with arm decorations that will never biodegrade (I like the 7 Deadly Sins ones, myself).
Well, my son and I both older and more cynical now and I hold Lance partly responsible for that. He was so loud about his claims not to have doped, so out there about how he had triumphed over cancer to win that it makes his fall from grace endlessly painful. Demotivating, depressing, destroying. Have we NO heroes anymore? Can no one be an example to others – do we ALL have to cheat to survive and thrive? Surely not, I wail. Is the foundation even real? Or is it a lie, too?
My son wrote a graphic novel about Lance, way back when he was in grade nine. Even then he suspected something amiss. He invested Lance with a bionic testicle. It’s brilliant, as is his take on David Suzuki, a probably honest to goodness hero, but tainted by the same cynicism that all the world gets, unfortunately.It’s called The Wholesome Adventures of Tall Tall Stuart, and he created it all, with his friends, in Word, a tedious experience that showed me that he could really apply himself, provided it led to a cynical attack on someone he was angry about.
Still, today, as more news about Lance filled the airwaves, I couldn’t help but feel grief. For the guy who thought he had to do this fraud to make himself worthwhile. For all the doping athletes who can’t imagine they could be ever good enough to compete without help. For the coaches and their grasping manipulative ways. For all the cancer patients who looked to Lance as a shining example of succeeding despite adversity. And particularly for the kids, everywhere, who look up to sports heroes only to have their hearts trampled when it turns out they’ve doped or gone on strike for more obscene amounts of money, or been selfish, insufficient, and liars liars liars.
Is it so hard to tell the truth?
But maybe, this lie does tell a truth. I just don’t want to hear it. It breaks my heart.