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Strong-Armed

The tragic fall of Lance Armstrong

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 11:55 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 11:57 a.m. CDT

An American hero, a worldwide role model for so many cancer victims and by all accounts an upstanding man, Lance Armstrong deceived all of us, plain and simple. But his deception stretched beyond sport and its accolades. It stretched beyond legal battles. It reached into the hearts of people everywhere who wanted to believe that hard work and dedication can overcome even the worst of circumstances.

Here’s some breaking news: it can’t. Some circumstances are too great, some situations too dire and some obstacles too absurd to conquer. That’s life. That’s reality, and it is far from the image Lance Armstrong portrayed.

Lance was the all-American ream. As a cancer survivor and a seven-time Tour de France champion, he captured the hearts and minds of millions upon millions of Americans. His thrilling races brought attention once a year to a sport that otherwise lay dormant and the story went from “can he win another one?” to “how is he going to win this one?” Most importantly for me, he brought awareness to his cause.

It’s no coincidence that his story became one of legend. He made it so. He pushed his cancer struggle. He pushed his celebrity relationships. His sponsorships blossomed out of successes that made him seem super-human. The irony in it all is that he is the most human among all of us. His faults and misdeeds caught up to him in a big, bad way.

He’s been atop the hollow mountain of a sport riddled with scandal. Those seven Tour de France titles had long been the subject of controversy, with accusations coming from both his competitors and his teammates. His long awaited admission of doping last week took many people by surprise. Not because they’re surprised he was dirty, just that he would admit it. I suppose he was tired of running from the truth.

Once again, it’s not as if it’s a huge surprise. Cycling has long been assumed throughout the sports world as the most notorious for cheating. In fact, if you weren’t doping and you won a marathon race in the past 15 years, you deserve to be considered among god-like status.  Many of the Tour de France competitors of the past 20 years have either been suspected or busted because of steroid usage. Lance Armstrong should have been no different.

He made himself different, however; his foundation, his story and his triumph made him different. He represented a living, breathing example of what pure will can accomplish. Then it all came tumbling down. Armstrong is no different than Floyd Landis or Alberto Contador or any other busted cyclist.

When you consider the sheer mastery of his deception, it’s really quite impressive. He pushed the narrative of the angry French Media out to get the American who won their tournament year after year, a narrative that he kept pushing and pushing until there was no more room and it came tumbling off a cliff. He accused other riders of lying, often pursuing legal action. In the end, Armstrong is the only one left as the defendant.

In his interview with Oprah, he was as cool of a customer as ever. Plenty of people saw this as a showing of remorse and humility, but we should all know Armstrong better than that. It’s the old adage of not being sorry until you get caught. And, boy, is he going to be sorry.

The silver lining in all of this is the coming about of the Livestrong Foundation, of course. Had Lance not perpetrated such masterful deception for so long, it would be impossible for the Livestrong foundation to have the reach it does today.

Over 100 countries sell Livestrong products to more than 1 million people worldwide. Armstrong turned his name into a cause and for that alone he should be commended. He did phenomenal work for cancer victims of all shapes and sizes. In my opinion, this was all a byproduct of his arrogance because Lance’s name became a pillar for cancer research funding.

The internal debate I go through when thinking about this story involves one simple question: was it all worth it? Not that it might have all been worth it for him because it clearly was not. He is faced with plenty of legal ramifications that will cost him all the money he acquired during his career and much more.

The millions of dollars raised by the Livestrong foundation have done wonders to benefit cancer research. It’s difficult to tell if that money would have still been spent if Lance Armstrong had never existed. Almost all of us have been affected by the disease in one way or another, but would it be the same worldwide cause? I can’t say definitively if it would have changed awareness either way.

I would like to think that when someone donated money to Livestrong, they did so not because of Lance but because of his cause. However, millions if not billions of dollars in t-shirt sales, direct donations and the overwhelming popularity of the yellow band on my right wrist suggest otherwise.

So, ultimately we have been blessed to have Armstrong on this Earth. He contributed so much to a cause that affects so many. Also, his tale of trickery and his web of lies show us that there are no superheroes. We’re all human and we all have faults. This one in particular will serve as a warning to those who might do anything it takes to be considered immortal.

With all that in mind, I want to thank Lance Armstrong for everything he’s done. Even though the “S” on his chest has vanished and the luster from his trophies dimmed, there at least is one more cancer survivor still among us and that makes it all worthwhile.

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