I read an article the other day in the New York Times called “End of the Road for Lance Armstrong”, the preview of a book being published on Monday by Juliet Macur, titled “Cycle of Lies” about the life and times of Lance Armstrong.
While not a cyclist, I have always been fascinated by Armstrong’s story: his early triumphs, his testicular cancer and subsequent charitable contributions, the yellow bracelet, romance with Sheryl Crow, exit stage left from that romance, wins and more wins in the Tour de France, and the “scientific” studies supporting the superhuman nature of his body, leading to those wins.
I wanted to believe.
And it wasn’t just me. Somehow I think we are all wired to look for heroes, or gods, to admire capacities far beyond our own – for athletic feats, making money, piety, or brilliance. Maybe it is a means devised by evolution to keep the human race striving.
But the lengths to which Lance, and apparently most, if not all of his compatriots went, to win, astonished me. Apparently the most successful of the team soigneurs (a combination of physical therapist, masseur, and doper) was John Hendershot. He “conjured up what he called ‘weird concoctions’ of substances like ephedrine, nicotine, highly concentrated caffeine, drugs that widen blood vessels, blood thinners and testosterone, often trying to find creative ways to give a rider an extra physical boost during a race. He’d pour the mix into tiny bottles and hand them to riders at the starting line.”
He would first experiment on himself, and “Hendershot, who had no formal medical or scientific training, knew a concoction was way off when he felt his heart beating so fast and so loud, it sounded like a runaway freight train. That wouldn’t work for riders under extreme physical stress. He wanted ‘amped up,’ but not to the point of a heart attack.”
I presume that Armstrong does have unique attributes and habits that make him a great cyclist, and so whatever concoctions he was imbibing or injecting just added to that. But I also have to wonder if the testicular cancer he developed in 1996 was a result of a disposition toward it, also not shared by others, that was enhanced by all that added testosterone. Not blaming the victim, just wondering.
The second item that struck me was that “Seven years ago, he told his three children from his failed marriage — Luke, Grace and Isabelle — that they would graduate from high school while living in the house by the big oak tree. He owed them that. They had followed him from Texas to France to Spain countless times. At last they could plant some roots. ‘I promise,’ he said. ‘Dad’s not moving again.'”
That house was sold last year, and Armstrong, his new partner and his now five children decamped for Hawaii. It was sold because he lost $75 million in contracts when his doping was revealed, and stands to lose another $150 million if findings are against him in multiple lawsuits.
As a mother of three, a lesson I learned early on is, “Don’t make promises you can’t guantee keeping in the next 24 hours.” My children have long, long memories, and broken promises are never forgotten.
Even after all those successes and millions, “Life’s a bitch, Lance.”