Lance Armstrong has come clean.
Armstrong's journey has been one that has kept us transfixed for two decades. We watched him breathlessly over the years doing what few can do. He was my son's ONLY sporting hero. Peter dressed as Armstrong for Halloween, donned a figure of him on his birthday cake and hung a huge poster of him on the wall of his room. He wears Livestrong and has watched hundreds of hours of Armstrong tour footage. Thanks Lance, you put a mother in a tough spot.
He has taken the demise of his hero well. When talking to my son about Armstrong's demise, it feels as though I am discussing the death of a relative as I try to approach the topic sensitively. While there is a sense of mourning of the person we thought Armstrong was, I am not surprised of the truth. Every athlete begins a sport hoping to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but at the root of every athletes journey is the desire to win. Not a single athlete who has reached a higher level in a sport hasn't thought of the "what if" scenario. What if I took this drug, could the Olympic team be guaranteed?
Steroids and blood doping have been the elephant in the room in nearly every sport I was ever involved in. I grew up in a sport (Rowing) where entire foreign national teams were repeatedly accused of doing steroids. They were machines and no matter how clean we rowed, dopers would often prevail. Once an athlete dopes, there is no way way out except retirement. If you stop doping, you performance falters and off the pedestal he or she falls. It's a vicious circle for those who decide that course and one that cannot be reversed without a fiery fall from grace. Is it really worth it?
Armstrong had many reasons to stick with his lie. Money was probably at the root of it. Fame is also difficult to step away from with your humility in tack. My guess is that there were so many people involved in Armstrong's lie that he was cornered by it. The colleagues that went after him, were captured dopers, they attacked him out of necessity. He continued his own lie not only to protect himself but the hundreds of colleagues he knew he would drag under the bus. So self-involved, he dragged us all under the bus, including my 11 year old kid.
We are a family of triathletes. The most disturbing trend that I have noticed in the past five years is the use of amateur athletes using PED's. A time-frame that once easily qualified my husband for the Ironman World Championships is now broken by many. While the sport has grown and training may have become more effective, their is no doubt in my mind that a select population will break the rules just so they can say they went to Kona for the big race. Recently, drug-testing has effectively removed the crowns off of some of the biggest named triathletes. Yet, amateurs are still not tested in the sport. What gives? Getting to the root of the problem at the amateur level would undoubtedly prevent even more grief at the pro level of sporting.
It would be interesting to see Armstrong be allowed to compete in an Ironman while newly clean of PED's. I couldn't imagine that he would dope himself up after confessing to Oprah. To see the outcome of Armstrong racing clean would be good closure for all of his previous fans. Many of us still believe that despite his many shortcomings as a person and the toxic juice he was on, he still was the greatest bike racer ever. For Armstrong, racing again would be his only card left to show us that he wasn't a sham. Still, I can venture to say that holding back a tarnished athlete from racing is life's most just punishment. In my mind, the verdict is still out on this.
At only 11, there is no better dinner table discussion for my son then the one of making the right decisions about avoiding PED's. Now that his hero has fallen, this decision should come easier. Despite the recent news, my son forges on in his own goals of swimming, biking and running. He does it because it makes him feel good and yes, he still believes he can win. Armstrong may have disappointed my son, but thankfully there has been one constant in his sporting life. This hero may not be on tv winning the biggest of races, but he can be seen locally pounding the pavement and winning on so many levels.
In the evening, this sports hero sits at the head of the table; call it his podium. While Armstrong made a living out of riding a bicycle, my husband uses a bicycle to get him to and from his job so he can make a living. His integrity as an athlete has spanned four decades. His legacy as an athlete is directly connected to his son's own legacy. In sports their will always be winners and losers. Deciding which one you're going to be, may be the most important decision an athlete ever makes.