“Being a dick is not allowed.”
I can’t say that I was ever greatly interested in Lance Armstrong, but as he rides off into the sunset–perhaps–I have found elements of his life fascinating.
Funny how coincidence can prime you for a story. In this case, I began to tune in to the whole field of endurance athletics when I realized that Carl Gable, Ph.D., who trains at Carl and Sandra’s Gym where I also work out, is a competitor at home and abroad as a member of Team Santa Fe (http://www.teamsantafe.org). I did a little research and asked if he would talk to me about the sport.
Mountain bike races are probably the most frequent form of competition, but the events can also combine things like hiking, boating, horseback-riding, mountain climbing, inner tubing, and navigation by compass. Participants need to be extremely fit and determined. For example, team member Barb Dutrow Ph.D., raced for three days, including kayaking, mountain biking and a 400-foot rappel, with a fractured arm.
Carl recently completed Breck’s Epic, a grueling, 240-mile mountain bike race in Colorado, which included climbing 30,000 vertical feet over six days. I found the race rules at http://breckepic.com/race-rules.html hilarious, and they gave real insight into the sports culture: Rule #1: “Being a dick is not allowed.”
That brings me to Lance Armstrong. However, I’m not approaching his story with a condescending attitude. It is far too complicated for that. For one thing, I forgot how ill he was–stage three testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. The fact that he is alive is amazing, and the leadership he has provided in raising cancer research funds is admirable. Light and shadow are mixed in all of us, and he will suffer the consequences of his apparent doping.
The fact of his cancer caused me to return to a fascinating book I read years ago, The Healing Power of Illness, by Thorwald Dethlefsen. The author is a spiritual psychologist, and he discusses the meaning that he believes may be divined in every disease. His discussion of cancer has broad implications for the way we live on this planet, and here is a brief summary.
Dethlefsen begins by pointing out how every cell exists to serve a function, an organ, and the wellbeing of the entire body. The cancer cell is one that abdicates service to the whole and goes renegade for some reason, making “its own reproduction its first and only priority.” It basically achieves freedom through irresponsibility, realizing only too late that it cannot survive beyond the death of its host.
As I read this, I wondered how soon after his remarkable recovery Lance began to get into doping. Perhaps the exposure to all the toxic chemicals involved in cancer treatment conditioned his body and his psyche to pharmaceutical enhancement. The news reports thereafter suggest an incoming ruthlessness, kind of like that of cancer cells on the move. And he clearly did not consider the damage doping would do to the sport that was his host, so to speak.
Lance Armstrong’s story is troubling on many different levels, and it is surely not over considering the fact that he is only 41 years old. He’s a young man and has time yet to redeem himself, depending on what he learns from his own downfall and how and if he grows.
As I was taking notes during my conversation with Carl, there were a couple of things he said that especially impressed me. One was how the team members in these endurance races help each other. As the Breck Epic rules stated, “if you’re one of those super-aggro, win-at-any-cost folks…well, maybe this isn’t the event for you.” Refreshing.
Another was Carl’s statement that physical limitation does not cause a person to quit a race; quitting is the result of a mental decision. I understood that winning the race is not the main thing; going the distance is. And boy, do they make that tough.
So now I’m back to Lance Armstrong and all the years he may yet have to live. Many doors are now closed, but I think there may be one through which he could find a path to true healing. I think it would be a great thing if he sat down and had a chat with his own body and apologized for the way he dishonored it. He was clearly born with amazing strength, stamina, and athletic ability–a truly remarkable constitution. And by taking performance-enhancing drugs, he betrayed his extraordinary gifts, as though to say, “You’re not good enough for me.”
Lance needs to set things straight and very soon. The goal has shifted from winning to going the distance. The stress he is under now will make him vulnerable, and there may be an ambitious cell within that is ready to roll, sort of like, “If you don’t start growing, I will.”