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Should He Stay or Should He Go?

12 September, 2008
Armstrong wins 7

Armstrong wins 7

The news that Lance Armstrong intends to ride next year’s Tour de France is no small thing. See Lance Armstrong Rides Again Seven-time winner of what is, arguably, the best known cycling competition in the world, Armstrong knows what will be in store for him.  Armstrong is also famous as a cancer survivor and outspoken advocate for cancer patients, their families and for national funding to fight cancer.  He is an international sports legend and a celebrity.

Why, then, does he want to ride again?

Armstrong insists it is not about the bike.  Instead, he claims riding again will provide him with more opportunities to do what he is passionate about: speaking out about cancer and cancer research.  With media attention, Armstrong believes he can continue his campaign.

There is little doubt he will receive media coverage; and he is a master of working this to his advantage.  The question, however, is whether he is wise to ride again.  Is he wise to train rigorously (and no one, absolutely no one trains better and harder than Armstrong!) and go through the pain at his age (37)?  In the world of professional athletes, he is no longer a youngster.  Can his body handle it? (Of course, all of us old geezers who still swim, ride and run secretly hope he wins just to defy the assumed ageism).

Is he wise to enter again if he ends coming in ‘second place’?  This is tricky, I imagine, because Armstrong and his staff know full well who his competition will be.  Armstrong is too intelligent and disciplined to underestimate his opponents.  But even with the best of preparation and planning, things happen.  If Armstrong doesn’t win (and don’t listen to him if he or others say this isn’t his aim!) then what will this do to his Tour de France reputation and honour?  Many pro athletes have attempted to make a ‘come back’ and things end up embarrassingly boring and disappointing.

"Pain is only temporary"

The media and certain French voices will only conclude that his 7 previous victories were (wink, wink) the result of doping.  Lance has never been proven to have used illegal substances, despite whispers, accusations and public questioning.  But, should the 2009 victory go to someone else other than Armstrong, I expect the whispers to increase.  Lance is a big guy and, seemingly, he can handle the attacks (he has some great lawyers).  Yet, why allow his 7-times victory to be ‘tarnished’ by ‘coming in second’ in 2009?

Is he wise in yet another way, a more complicated way? I’ve never met the man (but I’d really like to even though he’d probably say I am boring).  I wouldn’t presume to psycho-analyze the guy.  On the other hand, I wonder if he is wise to ride again in light of what true wisdom really is.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

He hates it when Christians tell him what to do and who he should be (fair enough, as far as it goes). Then again, maybe this is the price of being in the public eye.  Yet, in the public eye, this champion and hero to many of us looks vulnerable.  The reported incidents concerning his dalliances with singers and actresses are easily mocked (I will not).  What troubled me was the evening when, with Kate Hudson, Armstrong was denied a table at a famous New York restaurant. The reason?  There were no available tables, reservations were already full.  Armstrong, reportedly, demanded a table anyway, exclaiming in the end, “Don’t you know who I am?!”  The waiter, er, evidently didn’t!

Yet that’s the question and it brings things back to true wisdom — of which Ecclesiastes is concerned.  Is Lance wise to ride again?  Or is he simply ‘chasing the wind’ because he’s finding his present life ‘meaningless’?  Is he experiencing a much deeper challenge, deeper even than the challenges and pain of the Alps and (possibly) cancer?  If the author of Ecclesiastes is hitting the nail on the head, then Armstrong would be truly wise if he looked elsewhere than the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and to someone else than a female celebrity for true significance and satisfaction.  “Don’t you know who I am?” he insisted. “Do you?”, the Supreme Voice would ask him.  Does he appreciate the huge irony that this news-breaking report of his return to the bike appeared in Vanity Fair?

Lance Armstrong is an extraordinary athlete.  His fight against cancer and fight for cancer patients is enormously significant.  Few cyclists are as inspiring to watch as Armstrong.  He’s done for cycling what few others, apart from Eddie Mercx, have ever done.  For all this many of us thank him.

But should he stay or should he go?  No one in his vast circle (his entourage) is allowed to think negatively or to suggest anything less than 100% certainty.  If someone does, well, he or she receives “the look” and is quickly dumped.   So, as I’ll never be dumped let me ask it: is it wise to “ride again” and get back in the saddle one more time?  He may well win in 2009.  It will be thrilling to watch him try.  But, suppose he does win an 8th time?  What then?  What next?  Will he go into politics? Will he run for governor of Texas?  Will he some day run for President? (None of these options are wild and crazy).  What is the wise thing for him to do?

Ultimately, it all depends upon how one defines ‘wise’.  And, therein lies the problem — not only for Armstrong but, in the final analysis, for all of us.

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