You’ll see him crouched on all fours, retching. His eyes have gone into their sockets and he looks like he just escaped from the horrors of Auschwitz. But he has hope, though his hope lies many miles away – in Austin, Texas to be precise. The book on his bedside is testimony to this hope. This man, who came back from stage 4 cancer that had metastasized to his brain and lungs and according to statistics, should be nestled in a wooden box six feet beneath under a large yew tree. But he found himself on the tour de France podium 7 times! If that isn’t hope, what is?
Sport cannot fathom treachery. Politics can, the workplace can, the entertainment world can (they make shows out of it in the guise of reality television). Not sport. Sport is the last bastion of hope in our otherwise ornery lives. It makes warring countries call a ceasefire, gives us refuge from the vicissitudes of life. Sport is meant to be sacred, to be untouched by the ravages of pettiness and dishonesty. There is no sight more dismaying, no crueler twist of fate, no fall from grace more merciless than that of an icon surrendering his iconship. In a span of 3 minutes, Lance Armstrong wasn’t just striped off 7 titles, he was stripped off a large part of his time on earth.
Words cannot fathom loss, they can only give it a shape for people to discuss, ruminate and wallow in. How do you even begin to wipe seven years off? How can you write off an entire career, an extraordinary one at that, fueled by lies and deceit? Seven years – that’s roughly a childhood.
You’ll see her staring at the ceiling all night. The IV drip next to her contains a substance so toxic, but is her only hope if she is to see her child finish nursery. Heck, it’s child’s play. If he could stave off 9 tumors (3 in his brain) and then go onto script ‘one of the most memorable moments in sports history during this century’, she can do it too. It can’t be that bad. He did it and became a sports icon!
What of the years spent on a saddle, stretching every nerve and sinew? What becomes of the endless hours of practice, the falls, the climbs on the steepest of slopes in the Pyrenees? What happens to the image of resilience, hope, unflinching tenacity, and the brands that piggybacked on the world’s greatest (i)con? What of a sport so entrenched in doping that the ruling body isn’t awarding anyone else the titles they stripped off Armstrong? What happens to cycling’s lost years? What of the countless memorabilia, the fans who sit with an autograph they thought was worth its weight in gold? What happens to all the tributes, the countless reams of paper, the stories packaged in paperback to a world so bereft of heroes?
She doesn’t want any of her friends to see her. Not without her hair. But mama tells her she’ll get better soon and play with her friends. Every night, mama turns the light off (daddy comes on weekends) and tells her a story of this man from Texas who rode cycles for a living and was diagnosed with cancer. They told him he wouldn’t survive. But he did and won the world’s most famous cycle race 7 times. Everyday mama tells her the story and always ends it with – ‘you’ll win baby, just see what Lance did’. Tonight, mama is not telling her that story, she just sings a lullaby. Why doesn’t mama tell her that story of that nice cyclist?
At some point, kids realise that santa doesn’t exist and that their baby brother didn’t fall from the sky. Lance Armstrong’s story is one such event where everyone is suddenly forced to grow up. It is almost myth worthy, like being told that Elvis was truly alive and well (and working for no less than the federal government), that the moon landing was a hoax.
The rage was palpable at the press conference when the UCI president Pat Mcquaid said –‘Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten.’ But it isn’t easy. Yes, he conquered stage 4 cancer, endured the severest of treatments and got back on the bike and rode on the world’s toughest race. Post his cancer, he thought of himself to be the face of survivorship, going so far as to dedicating his comeback to raising awareness on the disease.
And in being the face of cancer survivorship, Lance Armstrong now finds himself in the most unenviable position of all – being the face of the cancer that afflicts all sport.