Saturday, 30 June 2012

Lance and LIVESTRONG gives us hope and strength

I read an article a couple of weeks ago and I desperately wanted to reply to it, but I felt as if I had said enough about how I personally feel about the current USADA doping case against Lance Armstrong. Sitting this morning it keeps rotating around in my mind and I feel like this. It has been levelled at us so called “Lance Supporters” that we are fairly deluded in our need to see him as some sort of unblemished hero.

Well I can only speak for myself as a Lance supporter and say this, I have a History degree and my powers of critical analysis are pretty good, I also have a huge capacity to read a lot of material, and I also understand the concept of there being the truth and then the truth, and actually of there being no truth at all and just the ability to tell the most compelling argument. Another thing I have learnt from my plunge in to the catacombs of history is this, that we have always been looking for heroes and someone or something to follow. When I think of some of the historical figures I have studied spanning all the way back to the 9th century many of them where certainly flawed hero’s but they all possessed one thing in common, they had the ability to provide hope. One thing that has never changed all throughout time is this need we have, in our difficult lives, to find hope.

How do you quantify hope? I would argue that we are always looking for hero’s not human beings and maybe we all need to grow up a bit, but sometimes if you look at the human being you can see where the real hero lies.  As someone who has an illness with a lot of stigma still attached to it, what has always struck me the most about Lance’s story is the part where the conversation between Lance and his doctor is recited at the end of his treatment for cancer? He was given the choice to go out of the back door and get on with his life and forget about this awful disease, or he could pick up the obligation of the cured and leave by the front door and in so doing tell his cancer story as a way to help others and most crucially help tear down stigma.

We always focus on Lance’s strength and courage on the bike but if we want to look for where his real heroism lies it is actually in what he did that day by walking out the front door of his doctor’s office and then tirelessly from that day on telling his  cancer story over and over again. Can you actually imagine what that must have been like as a young man from Texas having just gone through testicular cancer? It is unfathomable for many of us the guts this took. I will say something else right now, for those of you who think Lance did dope, well then this actually makes what he did even more heroic. That would have taken a lot of guts to have to live out loud about his disease while possibly making other difficult choices.

 “ LIVESTRONG”  has nothing nowadays  to do with winning bike races and everything to do with living your life with hope, with strength and out loud and proud. This is what I mean about there being truth and then truth. When we talk about the Lance Armstrong Foundation let’s focus on that word foundation for a moment. Lance laid the foundation stone for what has now become a place of hope.  Not just in physical terms but also in mental and emotional and spiritual terms. Does what he did or didn’t do on his bike all those years ago change this reality that exists in the present right here and now for many of us? for me personally absolutely not.

Would I have made it in to the water at Ironman France on Sunday without this ethos behind me, that you keep trying, you never give up and you are audacious enough to think you can change your life and give people around you the hope to think they can change theirs?

Ironman France is probably the greatest example of the absolute factual truth I have in my life for this being the case. I trained for 8 weeks! Even my coach said it possibly was actually 7 weeks?! I was finished with this back in February because of lingering injuries and depression, and what changed was my trip to Austin and visiting the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and then daring to hope. I also felt a huge obligation to them after my trip out there to fundraise and remain a part of Team LIVESTRONG Ironman. I trained as hard as I could and I hoped and I prayed I would be able to pull something out in France, even just the swim, but mostly I just said to myself hit the fundraising goal if you can and get suited up with them and be out there and visible as someone who both supports the Lance Armstrong Foundation and also supports them in their endeavour to give hope to the 28 million living with cancer.

It was such a blow when Lance was barred from competing with us in France and I have shared about it that I didn’t even want to go, but of course I did. I became even more determined to support the foundation and be visible on the Ironman course in my LIVESTRONG Nike gear. Jennifer a cancer survivor and LIVESTRONG leader said to me you must go as you don’t know who it will give hope too, if they see you out there racing, you can’t know.  I was shouted at out there so much and two women did scream at me that I was an inspiration, I can’t know for sure if anyone who needed hope saw me but I certainly know for sure that people love more than anything to see people out there fighting whether we are racing against Ironman or out trying to live our best lives.

Team LIVESTRONG Chris, Helen and Shu made me feel like anything was possible and also inside of myself there was this strength I did not know I possessed. I honestly believe it has been built up because of all the stories of hope I carry around inside of me. I remember when I read Lance’s book in 2009 and I was able to carry on and take my History finals, I then was able to qualify as a fitness professional, and start doing Triathlons. There is so much more but that is the beginning. On this road since 2009 I have collected many more stories since Lance’s whether it has been face to face or on my social media, all of them have built up inside of me and have kept making me stronger. 

In France when I met the rest of Team LIVESTRONG Ironman every one of them told their story about why they supported the Lance Armstrong foundation.  All of them spoke of their cancer experience and then mostly the hope they received from Lance’s story and the hope they discovered in how the foundation empowers people affected by cancer. I spoke to a lot of people in France and a lot of serious age grouper athletes as well. Everyone has their opinion now but no one I spoke too did not support Lance, think that he was nothing but an amazing athlete, or that he was not an inspiration in all he had achieved regardless. Most especially they all think the foundation does amazing work.

I nearly completed an Ironman after a ridiculously short period of consistent training! I am still reeling; hell my coach is still reeling. I have never been as proud as I was that day to be out wearing my LIVESTRONG all day long. Lance gave all of us a lovely card and he said he was disappointed but that in the end it is all about the LIVESTRONG mission, and that is greater than one man.   When I got home I posted up my blog about my experience of what was one of the best days of my adult life in France. There is a guy who supports me in Ireland as a LIVESTRONG Leader, he is 16 years of age and has just finished cancer treatment for the second time. He sent me a message the other night with some YouTube links to Ironman videos; I found this the most touching gesture. Then yesterday he uploaded a new picture of himself to Facebook wearing a LIVESTRONG top and holding a bike helmet…

LIVESTRONG is about hope, and when any of us who have been empowered by the hope we have received from being involved with LIVESTRONG get out and live our best lives we then in turn provide hope to others and then it goes on and on being passed along. Whatever the outcome of any of this at the moment it can never ever be changed that the first story of hope that began this foundation and journey for many of us, was Lance’s, he passed his story on first, he started all of it. LIVESTRONG are working on an anti-stigma campaign in Japan right now based on this, telling your story. 

As I said at the beginning I have all my powers of critical analysis, I have my own views on all of this plus my own thoughts on doping in cycling. What I also know for a fact is the truth of all I have recited above. They can say Lance doped but they can never take away his legacy of all of us, of me in France on Sunday and Donal in Ireland yesterday, and of others all over the world who are the  recipients of the effect that telling his story had. I will finish again though with this, he was still the greatest bad ass of them all on the bike, always will be, maybe everyone just needs to grow up a bit…

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