Friday, January 18, 2013

Forgiving Lance Armstrong

To err is human, to forgive divine.

I forgive Lance Armstrong and if he needs to re-start his life with someone who ran in two races with him, he can find me here. I would slow him down as a running partner but I would be one. I've done my life 2.0 already, rebuilt after misjudgment or misdeed, become the better for it. The measure of a man is how you come back from adversity, not how you deal with life at the top. I respect people like Rick Reilly who now lash out at him for having manipulated them over the course of years, and yet I would gladly reach out the first hand of support for someone I have run two races with, so to speak.

I am not defending what he did; I am just not judging now that he has confessed. One morning last month, I rang our Episcopal church's bells 28 times upon the national moment of silence for the Newtown shooting victims. The first 26 were for the children and adults who were killed in the school. By the 26th pull I was already in tears. After a short pause, I tolled the bell a 27th time for Adam Lanza's mother. After one last pause, emotional and standing next to a church altar by myself, I felt a chill and I pulled down on the rope that echoed one last loud, ominous clang throughout our community, and that one was for Adam Lanza.

In that moment I forgave someone who stole so many lives.

That is standard belief if you happen to be Episcopalian, if you are Christian. I am not sure what your faith is, and it does not matter to me. During a typical Sunday morning service's reading of the Prayers of the People, there comes a point where our vicar prays aloud for those awaiting execution on death row.

If we can forgive the most despicable killers in society, I think we can forgive Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong finished the 2007 New York City Marathon in 232nd place, with a time of 2:46:43. I started at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island just like him that day, ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge just like him, ran through Brooklyn and Queens and up First Avenue and into The Bronx and back down Fifth Avenue and over the finish line at Central Park just like him. By contrast, I was a first-year runner dealing with plantar fasciitis and there may have been 232 people who finished behind me. He was an elite runner, I was a back-of-the-pack runner, but we both ran the greatest marathon in the world that day, and that is a fact. In fact, it is one of the things that makes being a marathoner pretty amazing, that rare chance to participate in a major, televised sporting event with the greatest athletes in that same sport.

We both wore exactly the same yellow LIVESTRONG shirts for all 26.2 miles. I added a bright-lime Team for Kids singlet over mine.

The next spring, Armstrong finished the New York Road Runners' Scotland Run 10K in 34:56 (5:38 pace). I finished it in 59:56 (9:40 pace), delightedly so. For the second time in five months, I ran an official scored race with Lance Armstrong, who as we know now was a defiantly juiced athlete. I was taking peanut butter and jelly and telling no one my secret.

He has been known to ride his bike past our house and into the morning bike mecca of our little destination town of Piermont along the Hudson River just north of New York City. When you go to Bunbury's coffee shop, you see the picture of him in the window, sitting there on the bench in front of Bunbury's with one of their muffins, a turnaround break spot after you bike the Palisades from Manhattan.

In my long career as a sportswriter, I have been surrounded by athletes who cheated and lied. Just look at the Hall of Fame ballot I was asked to fill out again last month, and consider the statement by a collective electorate that admitted no one, denying even someone like Craig Biggio, who should have been automatic by virtue of 3,000 hits and a career all with one team and a phenomenal community asset. I am realistic enough to know that no matter what safeguards are added -- baseball has added a huge one -- there will always be humans who seek to beat the system in any way they can, while it is their time.

Exposing corruption is one of the reasons I chose a field of Journalism at Indiana University. Bringing the kind of lies like Armstrong's to light is always a priority. But at that point, I do not judge. It is up to that person to rebuild trust and to restart a life. That is when I forgive and extend a hand. At a time when I see no one else forgiving Lance Armstrong, that is exactly what I do right now, in this space.

The clock is ticking on your life on Earth, like it says on that stone inscription in the movie "Gone With The Wind," and if you want to spend the next 10 minutes holding grudges, that is your call. Forgive like crazy.


Nelson Aspen said...

Fantastic food for thought. Thank you!

Diane Clement said...

I love your letter. Well done and cheers to creating space for LOVE and acceptance. Kudos to you.