Thursday, 14 June 2012

I really do not want to race in France with no Lance...

I have felt sick since I heard the news yesterday that the WTC (world Triathlon Corporation) have banned Lance Armstrong from competing in next Sunday’s Iron man France in Nice on June 24th. Due to the allegations that USADA are bringing against Lance the WTC have said that this makes him ineligible to compete in any of their races.
 Whatever the validity or not of  any charges against Lance concerning his past cycling career, what over shadow’s any of that issue is the way in which all of this is being conducted. The timing apart from anything else is appalling. This has been timed to cause as much trouble as possible for Lance, his family and friends who were looking forward to seeing him compete. This will cause upset to his fellow competitors and spectators of the sport, and most importantly his foundation LIVESTRONG and their investment in his Iron man journey with Team LIVESTRONG Iron man. Funds that may I stress where being raised for the fight against Cancer.  To level all this at him one week before Nice, The timing is just nasty. I am sorry but it is.

As someone who has been both a cycling fan and a Triathlon fan it has gotten to the point now where you just want to scream. I cannot see how any of this bears any relevance on anything anymore. People have decided, they have made their decisions about all this, and also the past is the past and like everything in history the further away we get from something the harder it gets to judge, as we cannot possibly really understand the full circumstances around those events and conditions from our standpoint in the present.  What is truly shoddy about all of this is the pointing of the finger at one cyclist.  Many of us know plenty about that era in cycling and if it was indeed a culture of doping, well you cannot bring that to bear on one person’s doorstep, least of all a cyclist. Everyone knows that if there is a culture of anything going on in sport then the athlete is usually as much of a victim as anyone can be, faced quite often with impossible choices.  Considering the era we are referring too it makes it even more dreadful to pluck a few people out and hang them out to dry and try to pin on them the blame for an entire period of time that was complex and opaque. This is exactly what a witch hunt does. A with hunt tries to simplify the complex to get nice and neat answers and so they will vilify a few people to get their boxes ticked.

Life is not black and white and sometimes we cannot have the answers and even more importantly sometimes we cannot ever know and we need to be satisfied with that. Lance is being targeted because of his celebrity and visibility it really is that simple. In February there was a collective sigh of relief and most people I think felt that relief not because absolutely everyone felt Lance was lily white but because they recognised that it didn’t matter. we didn’t need to know any more about this and what was more important was Lance’s tireless work for the cancer community in the present day, and his legacy in that regard, and even more importantly the future potential of LIVESTRONG, his foundation, still in its infancy but doing amazing things for the global cancer community, many people saw that this was what needed to be preserved and maintained above all else.

I visited Austin Texas in March and attended the LIVESTRONG assembly and I toured their Headquarters and heard LIVESTRONG speak to us for two days about their mission and their future goals all geared towards helping the 28 million living with cancer around the world. I listened to both Doug Ulman and Lance speak, and there was such an air of optimism about the future for their organisation. It was truly lovely to witness. I have supported them now for just over 3 years. I did find the organisation via Lance’s book but quickly became incredibly impressed by LIVESTRONG, the cancer organisation and all it had to offer the global cancer community.

LIVESTRONG and Lance are of course intertwined and he brought to bear on the building of his foundation the same will power, fight and intensity as we witnessed on the bike and we read about in how he fought his own cancer battle. LIVESTRONG are all about people. They started with one man’s cancer story and they are now all about millions of people’s cancer story. Lance has always maintained that it is all about the story, the power of a person’s cancer story to both release them and also to help release others, whether from loneliness or from stigma. LIVESTRONG has been built from this one guiding principle, the person and their story, they also let that guide their programs and initiatives they either implement or get behind. 

They want to strip lance of his jerseys maybe? But they cannot strip him of attributes he possesses that have enabled him to fight off a truly deadly cancer diagnosis and build a truly wonderful cancer foundation, a truly unique foundation. Think about the wristband? As Doug Ulman said himself, this wristband democratised philanthropy, for the first time ever for a dollar anyone could participate in the awareness raising process. The wristband was also there before social media, it actually did what social media campaigns do now on line, raise mass awareness about a cause. LIVESTRONG have always been at the forefront of new ways of raising awareness and fighting cancer. They didn’t invent the concept of survivor ship but they have run with it in such a way that it has brought it to the forefront of the cancer community consciousness in such a way as it never was before. Nearly everything they support or implement is based on this element.

I do want to mention Lance as a cyclist as well. I read a really good blog post this morning by a girl and in it at the end she said when all is said and done there was no one more bad ass on a bike than Lance and we all loved watching him, all of us. We build up our sporting heroes and invest in them so much and we do forget they are people just like the rest of us. But whatever Lance did or didn’t do during the course of his cycling career no one can take that away from him, it was intensely beautiful to watch him on a bike. That absolute will power and determination of spirit stamped all over everything he did out there on the road, that part was real, for sure it was and he brought that in to everything he has built up ever since.

The bottom line in all of this is, we don’t need to know anything more about what went on or didn’t during Lance’s cycling career, this was a difficult period for the sport of cycling, but then one could argue every decade has been a challenging one for the sport of cycling. Are we going to blame him for what went on during the Tour De France in 1911? Hmmm quite. 

What is truly cruel about all this is the timing when he had just been given a breathing space after the federal prosecution was closed down in February. Finally he could get on with helping to run his foundation, look after his family and also getting back to his triathlon roots.  Lance loves to compete, he is let’s face it one of the most competitive sportsmen on the planet and he is the ultimate athlete, to rob him of that outlet and also rob the rest of us from the spectacle that was Lance racing Iron man and all the attendant fun and drama inherent in that. Lance was bringing a lot of good in Ironman’s direction and there were also a lot of us starting to get out there and raise funds for Team LIVESTRONG Iron man so we could race in a team with Lance and also give back to LIVESTRONG and the cancer fight at the same time.

I pulled from Iron man France last year after a really bad injury I couldn’t shake, I then pulled again this March just passed from Iron man France 2012 because of the same injury that was still playing up. What changed? I went to the USA and the confidence and inspiration I got from being out in that country, first from staying with my friend in LA and then my trip to Austin with LIVESTRONG. I also stayed with my triathlon coach Claudia Spooner in Austin for an extra week and it was then it began to grow in me to try and give it a go, give it a go for Team LIVESTRONG even if I am not up to it. Liz Kreutz, Lance’s long time photographer spoke to me at the LIVESTRONG assembly and said just do it, don’t miss out on France and how amazing it will be to be out there with all of us and LIVESTRONG, she said even just train enough to do the swim. She made me realise that this was bigger than me. I was committed to my fund raising goal and to Team LIVESTRONG and of course the absolute treat of getting to be on the same race course as Lance Armstrong for a day.

So I came back to Ireland on April 7th wondering can I? It has been so hard, the injury is clearing but not quite but there was a miracle. I did start hitting the training goals, I started to love swim, bike and run again and I started to get really excited about going to France with Team LIVESTRONG Iron man to race and raise awareness about cancer. I have a fabulous coach in Claudia, and I got amazing support from fellow LIVESTRONG leaders, even one of my LIVESTRONG leader friends Shu Milne was coming to Nice to support me and cheer me on. I have had all throughout this period of time as well so many doubts. I am so tired and I have a shoulder problem now from swimming that I didn’t talk about this last week. I am finding it hard to keep weight on as it has been such a dramatic build up over the last few weeks to just see if I can do this.

As soon as I heard about this latest action against Lance yesterday I felt physically sick and I knew right then and there I didn’t want to go to Nice but at the same time I felt I should sleep on it and just see, especially as I picked up a bit of a bug yesterday and so I was really not in the right frame of mind to make decisions. I got a lovely message from Team LIVESTRONG about the race but I just felt sick. I think it’s all been so emotional anyway all of this for me. I have trained very hard in a very short period of time so I could not miss out and be part of this and yes of course I desperately want Iron man, but deep down inside I did know I was going there to not so much complete but participate so that has been hard mentally on me as well, to have to prepare for a race like that, knowing it’s not realistic to really expect to finish.

I have had a really difficult couple of years with injury and other issues, recently I have been so lucky to be injury free enough to work, and I am also working again for a really great person Tina Murphy, I love her company “Run with Tina”, and her ethos around fitness. I had gotten back to loving my Triathlon training too, but this has knocked me out for the count it really has. I feel like I  spent as a cycling fan two years listening to poisonous stuff then there is a break and now it’s leaking all over triathlon stuff as well. I am also really disappointed in the WTC, I can’t help it. I know they are saying it’s their rules but I can’t help it I feel disillusioned and I just have lost faith right now.

I am thinking about taking a huge step back from Triathlon and just swimming, biking and running this year for the love of it and then reassessing Iron man next year. To be honest I feel right now like I  don’t want to race until I hear an apology to Lance and a lift on that ban so he can get back to doing what he loves best. But we will see.
I have really important things in my life with my fitness career and also I wrote my part of a press release today for the joint program as a LIVESTRONG leader I am doing with bray cancer support centre for cancer survivors. This is what counts, my work for LIVESTRONG and this is what I said and it helped me a lot today.

"I am excited to be involved in this fantastic program. Ever since I first had a meeting with Bray cancer centre I was struck by the similarity in their outlook and focus with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and their shared priorities in both the initiatives and programs they implement themselves and support.
Bray Cancer Centre and LIVESTRONG both put survivor ship at the top of their agenda’s and a program such as this one reflects that priority, based as it is upon the cancer survivors needs and the desire to enhance their quality of life.
Due to the inspiration and education I have received from LIVESTRONG as one of their volunteer leaders I decided to begin the process of qualifying myself to be trained in prescribing physical activity to cancer survivors. This area is now understood to be a crucial component of survivor ship and cancer survivors are encouraged to participate in exercise to help in their on-going recovery. Through my LIVESTRONG connections I have also built up knowledge about nutrition principles that are beneficial for cancer survivors to be educated about.
I feel honoured to be part of this program with bray cancer support. For me this will be the first time I will be using my skills as a cancer survivor physical trainer and I thank bray cancer and LIVESTRONG who have both made this development possible!"

This is what counts for all of us involved in the cancer community, what helps people affected by cancer? And to put it simply LIVESTRONG help people affected by cancer, right now in the present in the now and their potential to do that in the future can only grow a thousand fold. Lance’s legacy is this work, that’s what counts now and the rest of it, the past it needs to be left alone.
I am not sure what I will do about France but I am so happy I hit my fund raising goal for the team and I still have some dollars from training miles I put in, still to add to the fund.  It was an article in the Iron man magazine, " Lava" that inspired me to donate a dollar per mile for my own training to LIVESTRONG. Yes Lance brought a lot in to the sport of Iron man in a short period of time, he really did. I just hope for him because he love’s Triathlon and for the good of the sport he will be back again one day. In the meantime I wish Lance and his family and friends all the very best through this difficult time.

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