What is greatness? How do we, as a culture today define it, and how do we achieve it? Greatness means different things to different people, but one thing that people could agree on a few years ago, is that Lance Armstrong embodied greatness. A man who was stricken by cancer just as his career was getting started. A man who, despite having a long fight with that cancer did not give up. A man who fought back after he beat cancer to reach the mountain top (literally and figuratively) of cycling, culminating in an unprecedented 7 straight Tour De France titles. A man who brought America’s attention to France, and cycling, every year for almost a decade. This, was a man who was greatness.
Then, he wasn’t. Evidence has come to light that Lance Armstrong had been using illegal performance enhancing drugs during his time with the US Postal service racing team and his wins in the Tour De France. Nike has dropped him, he has stepped down as the chairman of his cancer foundation Livestrong. His name and his record is in the process of being dragged through the mud. And deservedly so.
Here though, is where my questions of what makes greatness come in. Does he lose his title of great because we find out that to get to the top of his sport, he took illegal substances? Do we consider that cycling consistently has the worst record of any sport when it comes to doping (despite the sport claiming it is clean). Does it matter that he used the drugs? Yes, of course it does. He cheated, but does this negate greatness? Apple has stolen ideas from Google, and Google from Apple, cheating each other, but do we consider either of those companies great? I do.
Lance Armstrong had cancer, and when he beat cancer he hopped back on his bike. He rode his bike to the top of the cycling world, and stayed there for seven years, after having cancer. I keep going back to the fact that he had cancer because this is what I think makes him “great”. Should he have cheated. No. Should it matter that every other one of his teammates, and more than likely most cyclists in the world, were cheating? No. Should we not consider him great because he was determined to get to the top of his profession and did what it took to get there? Morally, yes, we should. He did cheat, and he did disappoint a lot of American’s in doing so.
But, he also beat cancer. He was, and still should be, an inspiration for all who have had cancer, have cancer and to families of people who are fighting it. He is proof that cancer, if it doesn’t kill you, can make you stronger. He didn’t have to get back on his bike, but he did. He didn’t have to be determined to be the greatest cyclist who ever lived, but he was. He cheated to get there, but he got there.
Disgraced? Yes I think Lance Armstrong should be disgraced. But I think that we should still look to him for inspiration. He fought through a disease that a lot of people fight everyday. And after he made it through cancer, and found his fame in cycling, he made sure that he remembered the cancer and that other people are fighting the fight that he did. Do I think Lance Armstrong is a good person? Not really. But do I think he should be looked to for inspiration? Yes, I do. And not just for people who are fighting cancer, but for anyone who is fighting through tough things in their lives. Lance Armstrong is proof that if you win your battle, you can march on to bigger and better things.
Greatness means different things to different people. But for me, Lance Armstrong is still great. He is not a great human. He is not a great leader. But he is a great inspiration. And while titles and sponsorship’s can be taken away, the fact that he beat cancer and made his way to the top of the cycling world cannot.