Sunday, January 20, 2013

It WAS About the Bike

In 2007, I started to run.  Well, maybe it was a shuffle-walk, but nevertheless, I laced up a pair of crappy sneakers and hit the road.  Not even two weeks later, I purchased a pregnancy test which later told me (well, showed me) that I was with child.  I immediately stopped smoking and sat down with a bag of ruffled chips.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration concerning the chips, but the way my weight ballooned it made sense to write it.  Blah blah, most of you know my story: got fat eating Whopper Jr.’s and chips, while discovering my love for mashed potatoes and gravy.  I commonly ate chicken cutlet subs with mayo because they were oh-so-tasty and comforting.  As the sun rose from the east, my hands raised a toasted sesame bagel that carefully carried sausage (sometimes ham), egg and cheese, saltpepperketchup to my sweaty, pimpled face.  I know it all sounds glamorous, but I was out of control.  In February of 2008 I gave birth, albeit, a difficult process, to a gorgeous little girl.  To my dismay, I didn’t walk out of the hospital in my ‘skinny jeans’.  (Please note, I don’t actually wear skinny jeans; I’m not even sure where to buy them or what they look like.  Perhaps I’d even mistake them for an 80’s scarf.  I dunno.)  I would spend the next few months getting my ass 5K ready.  Everything snowballed from there…
I fell in love with the road (and later the trail).  Going for a run required minimal preparation and, for the most part, no driving.  I didn’t have to find a ‘cute’ outfit that would stay in place during a group fitness class, nor did I have to deal with ‘looking funny’ with a huge mirror staring back at me.  Running was me time – even if I wasn’t alone.  I took the time to decompress, sort out shit, get a good sweat on and challenge myself.  Every run was different.  I ran races as if the world would end, I encouraged people to race with me, and I always tried to find something bigger and better.  Like a sponge, I soaked up everything I could about running – reading technical magazines, training plans, community blogs – the list goes on.  I found my own heroes locally, nationally and internationally.  I understood that I would never compete at a higher level and that was okay.  I’m unsure of how I stumbled across the LIVESTRONG Challenges, but sometime in 2009 I found an event that would be held in August on a community college campus.  The charity event intrigued me, so, like a sponge, I dug further to get more information. 
Over the next four years, I participated, with an ever growing group of friends, and raised thousands of dollars for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  I understood their mission and believed in the organization.  Seeing Lance as the figurehead was, honestly, just a bonus.  I never had an interest in cycling, however, I absolutely watched a few stages of the Tour de France.  Controversy aside, the level of commitment and drive in those athletes was absolutely amazing.  I, of course, read Lance’s book It’s Not About the Bike, and shared it with a number of my friends.  Although, he talks about cycling and his professional career prior to the diagnosis, the book really highlights the cancer process and fight.  I viewed LIVESTRONG and the foundation not as a boost for his career, rather a genuine effort to help fighters and their families get access to education and programs to make them more successful, whether emotionally or clinically.  THIS made Lance a hero in my mind.  I understand the difficulties in navigating the health care system.  Some people don’t have enough information to ask the questions, or find the resources that will help them live a longer life with quality.  LIVESTRONG helps.    
As time moved on, Lance’s work for his organization grew along with the constant pressures from the USADA and the media related to the doping allegations.  I didn’t pay much attention – I didn’t find any of the discussions relevant to the organization’s work and maybe, subconsciously, I didn’t want to entertain the stories as fact.  I continued to defend Lance because I was proud of LIVESTRONG.  I guess I, too, had some problems separating the man from the organization.  Each year our little LIVESTRONG Challenge group grew, as did my fundraising efforts.  I felt that I helped make a difference.  I naively thought, and hoped, that the USADA was honestly on a ‘witch hunt’, as Lance sharply accused. 
In October of 2012, I planned to participate in the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival.  The weekend was filled with seminars covering a multitude of topics.  I especially looked forward to seeing Kristin Armstrong, contributing editor and freelance writer for Runner’s World.  Incidentally enough, she’s the ex-wife of Lance.  I read her blogs before I recognized the association; I enjoyed her writing so much I even pre-ordered her book Mile Markers.  I was disappointed to hear that she planned to stay in her native Austin, TX because of the recent media reports of Lance’s ban and the possibility of being stripped of seven Tour victories.  The volume of negative comments in response to her blog (link posted above) was so overwhelming that it appeared Runner’s World disabled the replies.  I decided to get informed and read the USADA report.  Well, most of it.  It saddened me to read all the compelling evidence against Lance.  Kristin didn’t appear to be squeaky clean in all of this either.  Lance was a role model to aspiring cyclists and a huge portion of the cancer community.  He marketed the fight for cancer with the help of LIVESTRONG and Nike to reach millions with a simple yellow bracelet.  Kristin became a role model for women runners trying to find a balance between work, family and personal.  In my eyes, I observed the fall of two heroes. 
I watched most of the Oprah (later coined ‘Doprah) Part I interview and some of the Part II last week.  I’d like to put a few points out there before getting to my view:
  1. LIVESTRONG never claimed to be about cancer research.  The mission always was to empower people with knowledge whether it’s information on preventing cancer or helping people fight the disease.
  2. Lance always was a dick.  Read his book.  It wasn’t a shocker to me when he said he was a competitive bully.  Winning was everything to him.  Again, read the book. 
I am human.  People make mistakes and it shouldn’t be our role to judge.  Sometimes we forget that.  I felt embarrassment for him as he answered Oprah’s yes/no questions.  Regardless of his motivations to set the record straight I think it took a lot of balls for him to answer everything.  I understand that he can no longer be prosecuted for perjury, but let’s think about this – he has five children, five innocent children.  Right now, more than any time, they need to have a solid, familial foundation encapsulating them.  Having their father sit in jail would only do more destruction.  I can only imagine how the kids are being treated in their little social networks.  Kids can be cruel.  Let this be a lesson to them that bullying gets them nowhere. 
Lance commented on how winning was everything.  I can honestly see his perspective.  This man beat cancer and vowed to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to win as long as he came through.  He fought against all odds and kept that promise.  It’s a shame that he viewed winning the Tour as proof.  He failed to remember that he DID beat cancer, he was able to compete, he fathered healthy children AND he established an organization to help on an international level.  If Lance crossed that finish line, without the help of any illegal enhancements, that’s winning enough.  Apparently, when he placed third during the 2009 Tour he did that without doping.  Of course, the critics dispute that, but after all he came clean about, why would he lie about the third place finish?  I don’t care to research that one.
Lance made LIVESTRONG with his story.  His involvement with the organization helped cycling and vice versa.  Now that he has stepped aside, LIVESTRONG has made great efforts to move past this shit storm with their aggressive 2012 end-of-year fundraising campaign and 2013 push.  For the sake of their fighters, I do hope that the air will soon clear.  It will take time, but I wish them nothing but the best.   The mission from the beginning has never changed and, after some research, it does appear that any legal fees and personal expenses that Lance incurred was not blended with the organization’s money.  Their financial staff did their job as far as drawing those lines. 
Where do we go from here?
Lance continued to remark on how this would be a ‘process’ for him.  You bet your sweetness it’s going to be a process.  It’s a process that should have NONE of our involvement.  He did a lot of damage to his personal relationships that requires much more than time and apologies.  He has a tough road ahead of him personally, too.  Maybe he’s a changed man.  I hope he’s a changed man.  The lawsuits will flutter in; I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes broke.  We, as humans, need to understand that everyone messes up, maybe not to this extent, but those stories aren’t always magnified based on the level of media involvement.  Sadly, for Lance, everything he did was for cycling.  It WAS about the bike.  
As for my involvement with LIVESTRONG, I’m honestly not sure.  When I was much younger I lost my grandfather to lung cancer due to asbestos exposure.  I know that he didn’t have all the resources available to him to make informed decisions and get educated.  I believe that this would have made somewhat of a difference.  I believe that any amount of information would have given both him and my grandmother a sense of comfort.  It hurts me to think that they felt lost during his final days.  This was always my motivation for sticking with LIVESTRONG. 
Maybe it’s best for me to move on?  There are some fine local organizations who help people inflicted with cancer in other capacities.  I don’t know.  Am I a moron for continuing my involvement with LIVESTRONG?