Register Sunday | March 18 | 2018

LiveStrong Indeed

"When you see Lance, let him distract you."

I hope at some point today or tomorrow you get a chance to turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. I hope when you do that Lance Armstrong is on there somewhere, that he’s pedaling like most of us walk, that the yellow jersey is wind pressed to his chest like it was tailor made for him. By this point it should be. I hope you see his legs pump, filled with lactic acid and a dull pain that he ignores as he winds his bike through crowds that part at the very last second for him. I hope you see that ad, you know the one. He’s on his own, a guitar is plucked and a piano builds Moby style in the background; a shadow of geese on the ground behind him; buffalo shake the ground as he moves on; through a tunnel in the rain; a boy's wheel teasing up from behind as he glances back; the kids in the hospital window he pumps his fist at.

When you see him, let him distract you. From whatever it is you need distraction from. Think for a moment about whatever you find important—perhaps your wife, or child, or sister, or friends. Because that’s the effect of this man, this Lance Armstrong person who somehow beat cancer, really terminal cancer, improbably won a Tour de France, and then another, and then a fourth, and maybe now an unprecedented sixth. This man whose heart beats only 30 times a minute when he’s resting. He has become a myth, and myths are good things. It’s impossible to make more out of him than we already have, so stop fighting the disconnect. It’s no longer the human being we watch; by now it's whatever we impart in him.

When was the first time you watched a bike race? Mine was the last week of his first Tour victory. Now when was the last? I’ve watched it five other times, five other Tours, including this one.

Let watching him make you pause for a second to think about how staggeringly fucking brilliant this ride is. Make promises to yourself about holding on tighter, gripping till your fingers bleed, and then break the vows tomorrow or next week and forgive yourself your weakness. You’re not Lance, after all.

Forget about the September 11 Commission, or George Bush, or John Kerry, or the fact that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing in Iraq, that young Americans are dying for something we don't know what. Forget about your credit cards or that girl who is breaking your heart. Forget, for an instant, before the disappointment of your life creeps back in—and I hope you’re not disappointed, I truly do—that things haven’t gone the way you planned. Because, as I see it, what he’s doing has nothing to do with athletics, or even of these times. I am a huge fan of Barry Bonds and Allen Iverson and John Elway and Steve McNair, and what they do bears no resemblance to what his riding means. So let him save sports for you, if that's what he does; the riding prophet, or something, with his mutable message, and it’s one we are going to pretend we know, because in truth we haven’t quite grasped it yet. However Lance did it, for most of us, he represents something far greater than he actually is. He doesn’t just transcend his sport; somehow he has managed something nearly impossible, more impossible than the fact that he’s even alive to do this. He transcends. Period.

I hope for 30 seconds or 45 minutes or 3 hours that you get the chance to see him ride. I hope he helps you forget. I hope he inspires you. And I hope that you keep even one molecule of the hope he fills me with. This is not the pinnacle of human achievement; we shouldn’t look at him and marvel at what we are capable of, because he doesn’t represent that. What has happened with him is probably beyond even him. It’s just something rather remarkable. I don’t know how he did it, what it is that we responded to, but I hope he’s there when you turn on the TV, or open the newspaper. And I hope that hits you as it has me—in the head, down your spine, to your heart and into your toes.