Monday, January 21, 2013

The Sinner & The Saint

As a kid, life was simple. You had your heroes and villains. Good and evil. White and black. Its difficult to point out when exactly things changed but shades of grey slowly started making their way into life's colour palette. Slowly you no longer expect your friends to do the right things every time and you grudgingly have to admit that the guy who keeps shooting you down in office nailed the customer presentation in a way that you could never have done. And you learn to gradually accept that people and things aren't always the way you want them to be. And you live with it.

Lance Armstrong's shocking admission about doping on Oprah (a move that has undoubtedly reinvigorated her career) last week was a slap in the face to a lot of people. Lance Armstrong - Cancer survivor. Best-selling author. Winner of a record seven consecutive Tour de France races. Founder of Livestrong. Shining beacon of hope for cancer patients. And now, user and distributor of performance enhancing drugs. 

Yes the very same Lance Armstrong who beat testicular cancer and established probably the most famous foundation for cancer research and support in 1997. One year later, he won the first of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles. And after years of facing doping allegations, in August 2012, Lance Armstrong was finally banned from all competition by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and was stripped of all titles that he had won since August 1998. The man whose struggle against cancer and ensuing triumph in the cycling world inspired countless other patients, had single handedly destroyed an empire of goodwill and awareness in the battle against cancer. And the world forever lost one of its favourite good guys.

Or did it? I decided to do a bit of research into what Lance Armstrong has done over the years to see if I could weigh it against the house of mirrors that he built and shattered. In a decade and a half, Livestrong has raised $ 470 million with over 81% going directly to support their programs and services for survivors. Surprisingly (at least for me) the Livestrong Foundation does not directly support cancer research but its mission is 'to inspire and empower' cancer survivors and their families.

Not having any idea what that actually meant, I decided to do more investigating and stumbled upon this link ( ). Long story short, in addition to the great work that they do across the world and with their partners, they also provide multilingual assistance for:
     • Emotional Support
     • Fertility Risks and preservation options
     • Insurance, Employment and Financial concerns
     • Treatment concerns

I went through a few forums and found real world examples of how the Livestrong Foundation is changing lives and helping raise funds for some fantastic programs. Now how many celebrities do you know who have actually used their status for good? I’m not saying that there is not a single movie star or cricketer or politician who doesn’t support a charity (publicly or anonymously) but how many of them have actually done anything remotely similar to what Lance Armstrong has done? Can they do it? Have they done it?

So take a minute and try to forget about Lance Armstrong, the man who cheated his way to the top of the cycling world. Think of Lance Armstrong as an ordinary man who used his fame to spread awareness about cancer and help unite the world in its fight against it. Think of Lance Armstrong as an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary difference.

Of course, I wish that this is all a bad dream and that I will wake up soon. But that isn't going to happen. What will happen is that we will eventually live with the fact that Lance was nothing more than a common cheat. But it still doesn't make his accomplishments outside of the cycling world any less important. Lance Armstrong still is a hero. Lance Armstrong is a hero in a shade of grey in this multichromatic world of ours.


Nefertiti said...

awesome post! hero or antihero, we still remember him as the guy who taught us to believe, to dream and to live!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write something like this about him and i found one written already! He has been an insipiration to so many people who hv lost all hope...i jst cn't see him in a bad way! said...

Bernard Madoff was also a philanthropist !! The questions is whether is it okay to cheat to reach the top and then start with all that charity?

Neil said...

Its all about opportunity - when it comes to making a bigger difference at the top - could you, would you, should you?

In fact, when it comes to making a difference, how many of us really do?