They Deserved Better October 23rd, 2012
It wasn’t in any way shocking yesterday when I read that International Cycling Union (UCI) was stripping Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. We all saw it coming. The storm had been brewing for weeks, if not months or years. So when I learned that he’d been banned from cycling altogether via UCI President’s Pat McQuaid’s statement that, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” it was just about what I expected.
‘Twas not always thus, though, was it? In retrospect it all feels a bit foolish, I think. Our unflagging support. Our unquestioning allegiance.
The unlikelihood of a reign like his was what made it so great. That he beat the odds, at life and at sport, made him the hero that we all wanted to believe in. Unfortunately, things that seem too good to be true often are. Now, of course, we know that this was the case with Lance Armstrong. Having been exposed for participating in the, “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme sport has ever seen,” his fall from grace has been swift and comprehensive.
As for the pedestal of shame on which he sits today, he earned it, but my heart goes out to his kids. His older son is about 13 and his older daughters are about 11. They are old enough to remember helping him accept his final trophy in 2005. And they are certainly old enough to have believed that their dad was the hero and champion we all thought he was.
I love my dad immensely. And he was absolutely the hero of my own childhood. But I have to imagine that spending your childhood looking up to a father who was not only your hero, but a hero to an entire sport, and (on certain days of certain summers) to an entire nation, is an altogether different experience. What pride they must have felt and how tall they must have stood knowing that their dad was Lance Armstrong, conquerer of cancer and winner of more Tour de France titles than anyone in history.
I started thinking about his older kids yesterday. Eleven and 13. You’d be hard pressed to pick a more difficult time of life – a time more plagued with insecurity and more infected with adolescent meanness. The middle school years are brutal enough on their own. What fresh hell must they be for these kids now, having to walk into school with the knowledge that it was all a lie, that their dad cheated, and everyone knows it.
Perhaps I’m overblowing it. Perhaps Armstrong’s kids are being left alone throughout this mess. Perhaps my concerns are for naught. But even amidst the most gracious of pre-teens his children won’t emerge from this unscathed. I feel betrayed by Armstrong and I’m not even a cyclist or a follower of the sport. The disillusionment they must be feeling far exceeds anything I’ve ever experienced.
I’m sure a lot of people are feeling let down by Lance Armstrong. But there are five in total, and three in particular, who will feel this sting longer and stronger than any of the rest of us. They deserved better than this.