day 15: lance armstrong

Syringes carried away in a Coke can. A thermos flask full of EPO driven around on a gardener’s motorbike. Performance-enhancing drugs in the refrigerator next to milk. Blood transfusions in a hotel room. It’s not as simple as we might think to be an elite athlete these days.

I read the news articles about the latest round of devastating doping accusations thrown at Lance Armstrong, and while he consistently maintains his innocence, it seems that the evidence of cheating is insurmountable. (Armstrong refuses to comment on any of this still.) One of his former teammates Tyler Hamilton is releasing his story in a book, and he admits to using performance-enhancing drugs and to the ways in which he and he says other members of his team hid their drug use, and a number of Armstrong’s former teammates – 11 so far by my count – have all come out on the record saying virtually the same things.

From the New York Times article:

“The U.S.P.S. Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices,” the agency said. “A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.”

Comparison. Wanting to be the best. The best at any cost. Absolutely any cost.

What possessed these people to be so driven to get to the top and stay at the top? Greed? Fear? Money? Ambition? All of these things and more, I’m sure, but I am also certain that comparison was one of them.

[The accounts of Armstrong’s fellow cyclists] painted an eerie and complete picture of the doping on Armstrong’s teams, squads that dominated the sport of cycling for nearly a decade.

“His goal led him to depend on EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions but also, more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own,” the agency said in its 202-page report.

I’ve heard that the winner of the Tour de France is supposedly the world’s best athlete because of the physical and mental commitment it would take to win. Undoubtedly to get to that place and stay there seven times over would have made Lance Armstrong one of the greatest athletes of all time, incomparable to others, but with the information that is coming out now, it’s safe to say he did not deserve these victories.

More quotes from the article:

In 1999, del Moral [new-at-the-time team doctor] offered Vande Velde testosterone, and Vande Velde knowingly doped for the first time, using testosterone mixed in olive oil. The cyclist then discussed the program with Bruyneel [team manager] because he was nervous about it. “He said not to worry if I felt bad at first, that I would feel good at the end,” Vande Velde said.

Eventually, Armstrong confronted Vande Velde for not closely following Ferrari’s [team doctor] training program. Armstrong said his good standing on the team would be jeopardized, Vande Velde said. Feeling threatened, Vande Velde stepped up his drug use.

Zabriskie was also anxious about using drugs and asked Bruyneel how safe it was to use them.

He barraged him with questions: Would he be able to have children? Would it cause any physical changes? Would he grow larger ears? Bruyneel’s response: “Everyone is doing it.”

As I read the articles, the main thought that went through my mind was, Who did these people think they were? How did they think they could never be caught? What made them think of themselves as invincible? 

And here perhaps is a powerful example for all of us of what happens when a behavior, a pattern, a way of living – like comparison – becomes so deeply entrenched in us. We do delusional things. We think we will never be caught. We feel powerful because we’ve created a system where we are always the winner.

Until the charade ends, of course. Comparison leads to deceit. It has to. You may not see it in your own life because you think the comparison is minor, but look a little closer. Tempted to add an hour or two to your baby’s sleep time in order to make him or her seem like they’re sleeping through the night? Feeling like embellishing your story a tiny bit to be extra funny at a party?

Comparison drives us to win, and the only way to keep winning at all costs is to start lying, cheating and deceiving. 

I’m not sure what doping for that many years did to Lance Armstrong’s body, but it can’t be good, and that’s just the surface. There is a toll, a deep toll, that deception take on our body, soul and spirit. For the rest of his life, he will have to contend with these allegations, and for those of his teammates who have come out with the truth, they will have to deal with their tarnished reputations.

Yes, maybe they were exceptional athletes without the drugs, but they will never know what they could have accomplished on their own.

When will we realize that these “small things” we hold on to turn into bigger issues that balloon into even greater things? All of us – I am convinced of this, absolutely all of us – sit on secrets, ways of living that only hinder us, but these are the things that we think give us our ultimate success. It is not true. 

What are you doing, how are you living, what secret are you sitting on that is costing you everything that you have?

It may not seem like it is costing you everything, but it is. Do not be deceived by someone like Lance Armstrong or Tyler Hamilton, people who will probably continue to make millions of dollars despite this deceit or perhaps even because of it (through book deals, etc.). None of us want to live with the soul shame and deep internal wound that comes with a lifestyle of deceit. Better to be impoverished and free on the inside than a millionaire in soul shackles. 

I’m writing daily in October as part of The Nester’s 31 Days challenge, check out my posts here, and head over to the Nesting Place for other great 31 Days topics. 

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