By now the news of Lance Armstrong's doping scandal is old hat. He's been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation and is no longer admired as one of the greatest successes in sporting history. It's not necessary to kick a man while he's down, but Armstrong's amazing (though now false) journey taught me something in my youth and brought me closer to someone I love.
I didn't know that cycling was anything adults did when I was in high school, let alone an international sport with an American at its center. In 2001, it was my brother Brendan, home for the Summer from college, who introduced me to the Tour de France. Searching for an entry point into the enigmatic world of big brothers, I plopped down on the couch next to him and watched as he cheered on a bunch of men wearing spandex and cycling through the French countryside.
Honestly, I was bored to tears, but contented to spend time with him. Gradually, I began to catch on. The man in the red-polka dot jersey is the "King of the Mountains;" the green jersey is worn by the leader in over-all points, and the most prestigious yellow jersey is worn by the general classification leader (the overall front-man). Once I understood the color-coded clothing, I opened up. I cheered breakaways from the peleton, gasped in horror at deliciously dangerous wrecks and most importantly felt pride in the American who wore the yellow jersey day after day.
When my brother told me the amazing story of Armstrong's recovery from testicular cancer and about his underdog comeback to win the previous two tours, I was delighted at the drama it added to the sport. Against all odds, I thought, he's conquered cancer. Of course, pedaling to multiple Tour de France victories would be easier than fighting and beating cancer. Perhaps there was something in the chemotherapy. I suggested this often to Brendan. It must be some super-human mutation like the genetically mutated spider that bit Peter Parker making him a super hero.
Armstrong was America's cancer superhero. And as he soared into the winners circle, drinking a flute of champagne, I remember jumping up and down, hugging my brother and believing that anything was possible.
Later that Summer, I helped my brother build his own road bike. The next Summer, I was the one to turn on the Tour de France, insisting that Brendan and I watch Lance go for a fourth victory. And when I was home from college for the Summer, I took the bike my brother built for spins around the neighborhood as I followed the results of the Tour online.
More than anything, thinking back on that time, I feel naïve. But so was the rest of America, unwilling to see our hero fall from grace. I believed that he stood for something more than just victories. That he stood as an example of thriving in the face of adversity. It saddens me to have lost a symbol of possibility in a cynical country that could use an injection of hope. But regardless of recent events, I'm still thankful to have found an entry point into my brothers world that Summer, to have believed in something bigger than ourselves. We learned to be hopeful, and just because the truth shatters the legend, my hope in triumph and possibility is ever ingrained into my memory.