‘Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we learn to pick ourselves up.’
When his father asks that question of Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne had sunk to the depths. He had just fallen down a well, a seemingly bottomless abyss of fear and dread. He emerges, physically slightly scathed but mentally scarred. These words give him support, they give him courage; courage that goes on to manifest itself subsequently in ways that Mr. Wayne would not have imagined.
Lance Armstrong‘s body perhaps willed him no more quite a while back; perhaps that is why he stopped competing. But with this announcement, it seems his spirit has given way too. ‘There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,’ he said.
He is right. There is a point in every man’s life when he throws in the towel. He gives up the ghost, so to speak. And considering the witch-hunt that he has been subject to, the particular choice of words seems apt. It brings to the boil the eternal question: how much is too much? To quite simply answer that, it depends.
There is no right or wrong answer. There is a threshold up to which every man can endure; for some, this threshold is more than others. Some are deemed fighters for they carry on and on and on. They are the people who come back from the brink to do the impossible. Stallone’s Rocky was one such. People love an underdog story. They adore a comeback even more. They adore it for the precise reason that many of those who witness it are, in one way or the other, too weak to come back from whatever setback that they had faced. They live their dreams through such sportsmen.
There is always something about sport that stirs the romantics in us. The sight of the gladiators fighting it out; doing something that we can only dream of, suddenly transforms the living room around us into an arena where we live and breathe as they do; and win and lose as they do. We ebb and flow with them; we identify with them; we become them.
Lance Armstrong was one such sportsman. Many had succumbed to cancer. They would, if they could, cheer for Lance. He, however, fought on, not for the gone, but for those who had lost those who had gone – the loved ones of those gone. He represented the undying human spirit that no disease can take away; he represented what everyone aspires for – a second chance. He got one and he took it with both hands, a couple of legs and a cycle, one race at a time.
He is a symbol of something greater than sport; he is a symbol of hope. His Livestrong campaign captured the imaginations of millions around the globe and his work towards fighting cancer is nothing short of sensational. In a sense, he is akin to the Batman. The Batman is not a hero; he is more than that. He is a symbol; one that gave people something; something that they did not have – a hope; a hope that one day Gotham would be great again.
The world of doping and anti-doping is a weird and wonderful one. The laws are such that an innocent swig of cough syrup could put one under the purview of having used a performance-enhancing drug. That’s because biochemistry is such that the same compounds that enhance human performance can also cure human symptoms of suffering. The line is as thin as can be. It is, in a sense, akin to the thin line that divides good and evil. A step the other way and the one has a date with the devil.
In Lance Armstrong’s case, perhaps he is in the wrong; perhaps he did take performance-enhancing drugs. He denies it most vehemently and, well, most people in the world would be inclined to believe him. In a court of law, people are called upon to be character witnesses and to vouch for the character of the guilty. If Lance Armstrong had to have this, most people would have vouched for him blindly. They may all, of course, be wrong. Perhaps he did take drugs; then again, perhaps he never did.
The larger question remains – was this witch-hunt really necessary? Did it really change much? Take his medals away from him; take his money away from him. He cares not. However, this has succeeded in taking the soul of of him; it has broken him. It looks to be one man on a mission to defame a legend. Perhaps he has a personal agenda; perhaps he did not get what he wanted or perhaps he is just plain jealous. Perhaps he believes in what he thinks is right. Perhaps he thinks this witch-hunt is right.
All this has succeeded in doing is to bring into disrepute not just one of the greatest champions ever but also to bring into question pretty much everything about everything. If one can be retroactively penalized thus, where does it stop? Could we dig up the bones of the champions of the past and analyze them for traces of banned substances? Where does it stop?
In the end, Lance Armstrong will be stripped of all his medals and the prize money; he will no longer be acknowledged as a 7-time Tour De France winner. Some might sneer at him. What he will be remembered for, however, is his legacy. What he has done for millions of people and what he continues to do for millions more will can be taken away from him.
Let us assume, for a second, that he was indeed a doper. What has this witch-hunt succeeded in doing? Falling a legend? Satisfy the ego of one man hell-bent on defaming a champions? Perhaps. Or perhaps, it has achieved nothing.
‘He’s not the hero Gotham deserves, son. But right now, he is the hero that Gotham needs.’
‘Why do we fall, Master Wayne?’, asks Alfred.
‘So that we learn to pick ourselves up’, says Bruce Wayne. He continues, ‘You never give up on me, do you, Alfred?’
‘Never!’ retorts Alfred.