Contrary to what you might have thought, I never wanted to be a world class cyclist. As most of you know, I am not sporty in any way. None. I used to run track when I was little, and I was really fast, but then I had surgery on both of my feet and my running days were done. I was last picked; I played outfield; I have no dreaded phys ed horror stories from high school, because I didn’t take phys ed.
This actually gives me huge respect for those who do. Easy to yell from the sidelines, I’m truly impressed for those who can push their bodies and minds to make both stronger. I respect the power, and I’m in awe of it. I’ve dabbled in George Plimpton-lite scenarios (boxing, dancing) for stories, and each time came away with renewed admiration for what people who do this for real put themselves through. I think sporty thoughts, I just can’t do sporty things.
I watched Breaking Away the other night. If you haven’t seen it, it was a small, great movie about buddies who cycle. There’s a scene where one is training, drafting behind a big rig. The truck driver is giving him hand signals to let him know how fast they’re going. He pulls out to pass at several points, then tucks back in. It’s like the Tour de France, but just a trucker and a cyclist. It’s pretty cool, until a cop pulls the trucker over for speeding. It’s also at the heart of cycling, I’m guessing. I know, I know, nobody trains like that anymore. Nobody does anything outside a fricking laboratory anymore, it seems. They grow gymnasts in petri dishes and prune them like bonsais, they groom skaters from age 2, and skiers too. We used to call hockey a rich kid’s sport. Now they’re all rich kid sports.
Did I ever see Armstrong race? Bits and snips. I’m not a cycling aficionado (yes, I needed spellcheck for that and the title, as well), but the sheer power of cyclists is amazing. The specter of drugs has hung over the sport for years and years. Hell, it’s hung over every sport. It gets hard to think which ones we have to care about – professional? amateur? – and frankly, if you’re looking where to draw the line, you’re past needing it. I remember the baseball scandals. I also recall Pete Rose and the betting, and I recall corked bats (or something; don’t quote me). Ben Johnson made Canada proud for just shy of ten seconds. What sucks? That you can’t catch ‘em all. You can’t. And if you can’t, they all get slimed.
I was watching Canadian cyclist Curt Harnetton TV last night. And I was wondering what he thought, really, now. How many people have competed against cheaters, known it, and been unable to do anything? What happens when, like Armstrong, it takes years and years for the truth to finally come out? There are people defending Armstrong (not least of which is Armstrong himself). How? When his teammates and associates were telling the truth, he sued them. He threw them all under the wheels for years and years to save his own ass. And now, he takes it all back, and I think, “forget lying and cheating beside me on the playing field – how could you lie and cheat beside me off of it?” Lives have been destroyed by Lance Armstrong, and I am scratching my head at how you defend that.
I’ve always thought he was boring, frankly. Arrogant goes with the pro athlete thing, and I don’t care because you need that. But being boring is just a crime against nature. The other argument is that he’s raised so much money for cancer awareness. I agree that he’s raised a crapload of money, and that is wonderful. I hate that he had cancer as much as I hate that anyone has cancer. Cancer scares me. But he raised that money trading on the image of a great Olympian, a true sportsman, and an inspirational role model. Now what, Lance? Got anything else in there to soothe not your raging hurt ego, but the millions you let down?
I didn’t watch the Oprah interviews. I mean, how can you get hours out of “I did it”? But unfortunately, my Twitter feed kept me filled in if I glanced at it. It seems Armstrong answered the questions and admitted stuff, but was holding back the contrition everyone wanted. You know why? He’s saving something for Act Three. He thinks it will be called Redemption. I think it should be called Who Is Lance Armstrong?
You want to know a true cycling hero? My friend. Mandee Tatum. She mostly goes by her nickname, Surly, which tells you most of what you need to know. She lives in L.A. and I don’t see her as much as I’d like to, but this woman rocks. A few years ago she told us she was going to start cycling to raise money. We laughed and laughed (there is a group of women writers I’m friends with; none of us do many sporty things, unless you call complaining to each other over Skype as we drink wine sporty. I’ve often suggested we make it a sport). Mandee isn’t either, but I’ll be damned if she hasn’t done it. She rides and rides. She learned, she entered small races, and then more and more. She works her butt off at work, then cycles and runs and swims and enters bigger races. She is awesome. In 2 years, she’s raised $10,000. The teams she’s been on have raised $500,000. She went from the couch to the bike, and now wears Lycra. I never thought I would see Mandee wearing Lycra. Then again, she just renewed her wedding vows with hubby Dave in Las Vegas with Elvis officiating. See why she’s fun to have as a friend? Sponsor her, if you like.
I like my heroes human. I don’t think it’s right to tell our kids, “hey, you can be a great athlete, as long as you aren’t scared of needles!”. I don’t hate Lance Armstrong for doping; that makes him human, if weak. No, I hate that he cost so many other people their livelihoods as he stood fast to his lies.
Even he can’t out run this one.