I don't know who introduced Lance Armstrong to performance enhancers. There are two likely suspects who come to mind, but they're my private guesses. I did not ask Lance when I visited him earlier this year at his home. It's not my business to know. He's not admitted to me that he doped. He is not happy with me that I no longer accept that he didn't dope. Now we don't talk.
Rewind to the summer of 1991, and Lance said something to me approximating, "Watch your feet; the floorboard's missing." It would be a classic today if it was restored, but his '60s era Volkswagen Beetle was a beater when he pulled up to my front door in it. He’d driven it from Plano, Texas, to join a new cycling team just forming, backed by Tom Weisel of Montgomery Securities, coached and managed by Eddy Borysewicz, the Bela Karolyi of American cycling. Lance the triathlete had made the decision to try cycling and this was his pro debut.
The Subaru Montgomery team was run out of Escondido, California, close to Eddy B's house, and my bike factory was just a few miles away. Lance was flat broke and needed a place to crash. He won two national triathlon championships on bikes of mine, and that's how we knew each other, and why he asked to live with my wife and me.
He was with us for some months, and I don't recall how often I saw him after that. He visited us in 1994. By that time he was the toast of American cycling. He was reigning world champion, a winner of stage races, and a winner of a Tour de France stage. My then-wife was recovering from a horrific surgery immediately following the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. She'd had half her large intestine removed, and was just returning to running. She was barely able to put one foot in front of the other and Lance laced up a pair of inline skates and kept her company on those runs, while keeping up his own training schedule. Mine joins one of many personal stories I've heard over the years about a remarkably selfless - when viewed through the prism of current events - Lance Armstrong.
Someone - whether before or after that 1994 visit I do not know - coerced or at least invited Lance to dope. As those who are physically abused continue the cycle, Lance played his part in continuing that paradigm. Lance’s error and his responsibility for it does not lessen with the passage of time. For me, the fact that it occurred in a sport and at a time where everyone doped does not repair the insult. I can't minimize that truth. But I don't think it's the only truth.
Imagine Lance Armstrong saying, in 1995, "I've got cancer on the run. That's blessing enough. I'm retiring." Do I wish that would have happened? Would we be better off if the yellow bracelet never was? Better off had Lance Armstrong not personally touched so many who had cancer; had his foundation not been formed? Would we rather not have sat ourselves down in front of the television in the first week of July, for seven consecutive summers, and watched that race? I'm astounded to this day by some of what I saw him do that was not drug related. Do you remember the mountain stage when, on those tires three-quarters of an inch wide, he took the fall line through the dirt to get from one patch of pavement to the next after having been run off the road by a cyclist falling in front of him?
Lance Armstrong helped perpetrate the greatest scandal on the world of sports in history. Not Ben Johnson, BALCO, Pete Rose, the Black Sox, compares to this. If professional cycling thought it was in trouble after the Festina affair, after Operacion Puerto, those were minor scandals in retrospect. Not this. I don't know how cycling continues after this. Lance Armstrong is the face of this scandal, and in the court of public opinion he owns it.
He also owns – sauce for the goose – the explosive growth of cycling worldwide and especially in the U.S. Would the chief executive of Trek Bicycle Corporation prefer to lead the $350 million company he ran when his business first contracted with Lance in 1996? Or does he prefer the $700 million company he now runs, after Lance, 15 years later? I could ask the same question of all the CEOs of companies that Lance helped build during his 15 years of glory - companies that all discovered, on the same day (imagine the odds!) that Lance lied.
Great good, and great frailty, can and often does exist inside the same man. Lance Armstrong came as close as any single man has to wrecking an entire, magnificent, sport. He broke our hearts. That's the half. He also did more than any single man to build an entire, magnificent, sport. He impressed upon us - he overwhelmed us with – his work ethic, his courage, his force and, at times, kindness. That's the other half. If I fail to recognize the enormity of his bad acts, I'm fooling myself. But if I side with the mob and recognize only his bad acts, I'm taking the easy route. Until I can incorporate and process all of it, I haven't wrestled with this enough.