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The impact of a fallen legend

Steven Fisher | Sunday, January 20, 2013

My fascination with the sport of cycling began in the summer of 2003. One morning, and I can’t really recall how I came across the Outdoor Life Network, I ended up watching a stage of the Tour de France. Yes, I had heard of Lance Armstrong, who hadn’t? But never before had I seen him in action. An American who couldn’t lose, yellow jersey flying through unbroken fields of sunflowers, past ancient castles and over mountain passes. I was hooked. So in what became a ritual that filled many Julys to come, at 8 a.m. I would turn on our television, sit down and be amazed. Lance never let me down, and after he finished racing for the day, I would  dust off my mom’s 20-year-old road bike and sprint out into the countryside, reliving my hero’s exploits from the stage that morning.
It wasn’t long before I entered my first race. Wearing a lacrosse shirt, baggy shorts and a bright yellow helmet (Lance’s color), I took to the line. My dad held me up, I hadn’t yet figured out how to work the straps which held my feet to the pedals.  A year, and countless mowed lawns, later, I went in 50-50 with my parents on a brand new blue racing bike. Livestrong band on wrist, I advanced through the ranks and today, I’m preparing for my final season on Notre Dame’s cycling team. One change this year though: Now my wrist is bare.
There were always rumors Lance doped, and time and time again I discredited them, just as my hero did. “He never failed a test,” I’d say, confident science had my back. My confidence began to waver a few years ago, though, when a former teammate of Armstrong’s, Floyd Landis, gave a firsthand account of Lance’s doping regimen. But no, Floyd was a known liar. The guy raised millions of dollars and wrote a book to proclaim his own doping innocence before eventually confessing guilt. He must be at it again, right? As more and more witnesses came forward, government investigations were launched and the storm brewing over my now tarnished idol culminated with a 1,000 page, fact-stuffed report, I finally threw in the towel.
It is difficult to put into words the myriad of thoughts that passed through my head after Armstrong’s public fall, but one in particular did seem to keep circling back. What does it mean that a huge portion of who I am, how I live, and what I choose to make great sacrifice preparing for seems to be founded on a lie? Had there been  no Lance Armstrong, I would not be a cyclist. What does that mean for me?
As we all enter a new age, where through the ease of electronic communication our lives, and those of our idols, are placed under an ever magnifying scope, perhaps a new perspective on those we call “heroes” is warranted. In a recent NFL “Play 60” commercial, a little boy innocently bids farewell to Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton as their exercise ends for the day. “Hey Cam, thanks a lot for coming to my school today … I promise to exercise and eat right.” “Don’t forget your 60 minutes of play a day, right?” Cam playfully jests, before their dialogue takes a rather unexpected and comical turn. “And I’ll grow up to be big and strong like you?” the boy asks, “And play in the NFL? And be drafted No. 1? And become the starting quarterback of the Panthers? You can be my backup? And make Panthers’ fans forget about you? And become your mom’s favorite player?”
Laying in bed after Armstrong’s doping confession to Oprah Winfrey last night, I was surprised when this little Cam Newton impersonator coupled his way into my train of thought. To the boy, Cam Newton was a spark of inspiration. Clearly not a model the boy plans to emulate, on the contrary, he aims to take his place. But nonetheless, an important beginning to what may become a life long journey. And here is the lesson, and common ground, I’ve found within my own “relationship” with Lance Armstrong. A hero is certainly capable of influence on one’s life,  but it’s important to acknowledge that influence for what it is, truly only a spark. Lance will always be found at the beginning of my story,  and that’s okay, because the narrative that I, and that little Panthers fan, choose to fill in the remaining pages with will be an adventure all our own.
Joe Magro
Morrissey Manor
Jan. 18