So the news is all a flutter about Lance Armstrong giving up the fight to clear his name regarding doping throughout his career. He was stripped of his titles and his good name, perhaps already tarnished is now eradicated from the halls of cycling history.
It would be easy, perhaps too easy for me to say that everyone’s full of it. That nobody plays fair anymore and that all athletes enhance their bodies in order to just keep up with all the others who have an unfair advantage because they are using drugs to give them a step up. It would be easy for me to call Armstrong a cheater, which he is and denigrate him further.
But my thoughts regarding Armstrong are far more personal.
For about a year, I visited a cancer patient named Patrick Giles. Patrick was a friend of my colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover and after Fr. Brett moved on from BustedHalo®, I began to visit Patrick for spiritual direction and to see if he needed anything.
And Patrick was hugely inspired by Armstrong in his own fight against cancer, a fight that Patrick did not win ultimately. He died unexpectedly after a short fight with the disease, his prognosis was good but he took a turn for the worse one week and it was over all too quickly.
On our visits, Patrick would always say at least once: “Everytime I see that guy on his bike I get so inspired.” He had all the Live Strong gear and he really rooted for Armstrong and would go to events that Armstrong would be present at just to get a glimpse of him.
Patrick deserved better.
I admire Armstrong’s dedication to people with cancer. I admire his work in bringing attention to the disease and using his celebrity for a good cause.
But today, it troubles me. Armstrong isn’t different from any other athlete who cheats here. It seems to me like there are more who are guilty than innocent these days and it troubles me that nobody cares. Fans keep coming out to see the show even though these athletes are killing their bodies and the integrity of the sports they play.
And I think Patrick would agree with me and be greatly disappointed in his hero.
Patrick was a very critical person and he held everyone to a higher standard. I remember reading a story one time in a writer’s group we were in where a story was being critiqued about a man who was in a wheelchair and how it was such an effort for him to make sandwiches for his kids. In painstakingly detail, he told of the steps it took for him to make each sandwich. The author then compared the making of the sandwich to a sacrament.
All of us in the room were enamored by the story…that is except Patrick.
He whispered to Fr. Brett and I, “Can you JUST MAKE THE SANDWICHES ALREADY!?” Which evoked much laughter from us. Later on he would tell the group, “I’m sorry a sandwich is NOT a sacrament.”
Again, the higher standard applied.
I’ve been wondering what Patrick would think of Armstrong today. My guess is his disappointment would run deep, but I also think that he would be angry and ask good questions. Does his celebrity and good works entitle Lance to a free pass? I don’t think Patrick would think so. But I also think that Patrick would find a moment of gratitude in seeing someone so flawed also try to do good with his life.
You see, we all have something to hide. Something we hope nobody ever finds out about us. And often that gets uncovered in embarrassing ways. I know I’ve been red-faced on a few occasions and there was nothing to do but simply accept that I had been caught.
Armstrong’s monicker “Livestrong” should really be a message for all of us. It’s not how strong we live that matters, but rather it how we deal with those moments where we are most weakened by our own temptations that matters. Armstrong’s penchant for fame and maybe even his passion for beating disease led to the sin of arrogance. I see young doctors go through this all the time. Anyone who has a bit of power to inspire others can get caught up all too easy.
Even us ministers.
So today, I’ll pray in Patrick’s memory that we might be able to find a higher standard again and that many can find their way to altruism without the temptation of being a media star.
After all, it’s when nobody’s looking that the true measure of a person is most accurate. And Patrick always looked in the places that nobody else did. And if he were doing so today, he’d find Armstrong as a fallen hero, with the weight of everyone’s disappointment weighing him down.
And I think he’d offer to pray with him.