I knew Lance Armstrong
If you pay attention to current events, you know that Lance Armstrong lost all his Tour de France titles last month due to proof of using performance-enhancing drugs.
I spent 12 years as a competitive cyclist, and I grew up around Lance. We raced on the same bike shop team during our teenage years in Texas and were in the Team USA program together. We were never close, but it was easy to see that he was a ferocious competitor. He was going to do whatever it took to win, and I know that his drive never diminished over the years.
In my corporate talks, I always connect with the audience by telling them about my cycling career. Sometimes during my talks and usually after them, people ask me about the performance-enhancing drug problem in cycling and whether I think Lance is guilty.
Unfortunately, the culture of the sport demanded he do what he did just to keep up. At the top levels of cycling, the 2 percent advantage that drugs will give you is what it takes to compete. And with a lifetime of effort and millions of dollars at stake, and at the time with virtually no chance of being caught (and only a slap on the wrist as possible punishment) I’m sure the decision wasn’t a hard one.
Most of his competition was doing the same thing he was and it wasn’t a secret to anyone outside of the sport. Over the years as the game changed and as tests were taken more seriously, he was just savvy enough to figure out how to beat the system. Now with the charade over, he’s left holding the bag for decades of drug abuse in the pro cycling ranks.
As I think back on the victories he took from my friends and think about the victories that were stolen from me by girls who I knew weren’t racing clean, I began to think about the choices he and many others have made. There may be a lesson in this for us all.
When you’re in the thick of a tough situation, where a little edge will put you over the top, it’s too late to decide to cheat. Take the time now to decide what your values are and what you stand for. Do you even know what you stand for? Is it worth all the spoils of winning if you can’t live with yourself afterwards? Maybe you’ll be tested in your career, your relationship or investments. Maybe it’s just with your golf game.
In a world where victory and material things are a huge measure of success, it’s hard to look inside and know that possibly stepping back from a situation that’s not right can bring you a different kind of fulfillment.
I hope that you are never in a situation where you’re tempted to go over the line of right and wrong, but a little conversation with yourself now about what you’re committed to will prevent trouble later.
As for me, I made the decision long ago not to touch those drugs. I retired – not as outwardly successful as I could have been – but happy knowing I put in 100 percent.
Now cycling is just a fun way to keep fit. So when you see me out on my bike riding just for fun, be sure to wave.