My mother has always told me “Son, choose any field. Take a pick. However small or big it is. It doesn’t matter. But you have to be great in it. Your name should be the first thing that should come to the person’s mind when they are talking about that field. Almost inseparable.” Well, this article is about such a person. Give him a couple of wheels, a handle and he will be happy. He has crossed all boundaries, broken all rules, redefined success and redrawn the maps of cycling. His life is a captivating story of up and downs. His life is what probably Walt Disney would have showed kids if he had not come up with cartoons and fairy tales. All the important lessons of life. Lance Armstrong has been a very successful man. Which is why his fall was hard. Cycling is considered more of a discipline than a sport. Armstrong was better recognized as a beacon of hope for all those suffering from cancer. He is a living example of how we can more than just survive the dreaded disease.
Winning seven Tour de France titles is no mean feat. The races are meant to be grueling and span over 21 days. Lance Armstrong defied all odds when he won seven consecutive tour de France. A feat unachieved ever before. And that too five of the wins coming after his cancer treatment which included mentally exhausting and physically draining chemotherapy sessions. While some believe if the ending isn’t a happy one, the story is still remaining and others say if it has a happy ending, the story hasn’t ended yet. It’s all a question of who you prefer to be, really. He chose to be the former one.
Since he was a 12 year old kid, Lance was a very athletic kid participating in tri-athlons. His teachers recall him being a very active kid and an achiever. He got selected for national competitions and by the time he was a amateur 16 year old, he had more records than a pro. It was then that he discovered his penchant for cycling. Under the guidance of his coach and a grueling training schedule, he stunned the cycling world when at age 21 he became one of the youngest riders to ever win the UCI Road World Championship. At this time, he gave up tri-athlons and shifted all his focus to cycling. The rest is history. Now it is impossible to talk cycling without remembering the legendary Lance Armstrong. His actions, his decisions and his life has been case study for many. But more importantly, he is the biggest source of inspiration for many. “Yes we can.” Obama says it. He does it. Winning world championship, fighting stage 3 cancer, making a comeback, winning tour de France and facing various doping charges is his life in summary. But he has a story too, and it would be an insult to his legacy if it goes untold. Love, hate, success, failure, fame, rejection, inspiration, allegation – no emotion unlived. This is one person who has lived life to the fullest. No emotion unexperienced.
When I used to remember Lance Armstrong, more than cycling, I used to remember his comeback from cancer. I now care not for his cycling prowess, but this desire to get his life back. Now he is surrounded by doping allegations. He is probably the most tested athlete on earth. But now, when I talk Lance Armstrong, I don’t remember his doping allegations but his refusal to undergo any more tests. He retaliated to one annoying reporter who was pestering him “This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it; Study it; Tweak it; Listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day; what are YOU on?”
So, what do you do, when you have given all your heart to something and to something very close to your heart. When you have risen against all odds. Won’t you expect a small reward. A token of appreciation. A pat on the back and a pull on the cheek. And what does he get? Even more tests and some swabs from the cheek. Surely he deserved better than that.
In an emotional interview, Lance reacts “Enough is enough. When does a man decide when to stop. When does he decide to say enough his enough.” I guess, this was that point for him. Some say he got dumb. But then he might just have been a little more courageous. It’s a very fine line. And so he did what he had to do. He was thus banned fro participating in all other cycling titles and stripped of all the medals post 1998. In one moment, all his glory gone. He is supported by many. But was he right? Was such action suitable for an athlete of his stature. A cancer survivor, a sportsperson, giving up like this instead of putting up a fight until his name got cleared. Was this all for nothing?
In his book ‘it’s not about the bike: my journey back to life’, he quotes “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?“ So what happened to his ideologies? What happened to his “never back down” attitude? Why did he eat his own words? Great men die twice. Once as great and once as man. Lance Armstrong too died – when he gave up. And yet he lives on, loved by many. His legacy, untarnished and his efforts, unforgotten. And he moves on. Lance Armstrong’s triumph over cancer and his fundraising organization make him an effective front figure even after his reputation as one of history’s greatest cyclists was tarnished by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to strip him of his Tour de France titles.
Unmindful of the media, of all the negative attention, Lance Armstrong hopped back on to the bike on Saturday, the next day after forfeiting all his medals, urged his fans not to cry over his decisions and rode into a roaring mass of supporters; all extending their hands to touch the living legend as he finished second in a 36-mile mountain bike race in Aspen, Colorado, five minutes behind a 16-year-old rider, Keegan Swirbul.