I watched the video again and again: Wyatt's first day of riding his two-wheeler without training wheels. There were two abortive attempts to get started before the third one finally took and he was off, straight ahead mostly, with a scary lurch to one side here and there as he went along. When he got to the end of the court, he disappeared behind a stand of trees, and my heart was in my mouth for the long seven seconds it took until he came into view, triumphant, to the cheers of his parents and to my own from a thousand miles away.
"Wow. That was like in Apollo 13," I texted his mom, "when they went behind the moon and lost radio contact."
"Yeah," she said, "it was all I could do not to run after him."
A week later, Wyatt was a pro: smooth takeoffs, easy stops, a steady path. A week after that, another cyclist was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, at last giving up on his attempts to prove that he is not what he, in fact, is: a doper of many years' standing. The seven titles he won are not rightfully his. The millions of dollars he made in endorsements aren't, either.
"Are you sad about Lance?" I texted Wyatt's dad. He is a serious cyclist himself, which is probably why Wyatt learned to ride a two wheeler before his fourth birthday.
"No, I never believed he was clean," he texted me back. "I don't know anybody who's serious about the sport who did believe it. He couldn't have performed as he did and not be doping."
I felt stupid and naive: I did believe it. I believed it all. I remember reading about Lance Armstrong's heart, how it took up almost the whole of his chest cavity, and marveling at that. He must be a different kind of human being, I thought, a superman -- rather than realizing that an enlarged heart might be a symptom of steroid overuse. Naive, like a child -- like all the children who had Lance Armstrong posters in their bedrooms, who wore yellow rubber LIVE STRONG bracelets.
"What really makes me angry is the whole Live Strong thing, the promise that everyone can be better and stronger after cancer than they were before," my daughter said, "when for him it was all chemicals the whole time. For all we know, his doping may have caused his cancer." I guess we'll never know that for sure. I remember the time she brought me one of those yellow bracelets to wear, back when I was working my way back to strength at the gym after being hit by a car. I remember that she wore one, too. Lance was our hero. He symbolized the triumph of will over weakness. "Go, Lance!" she would say sometimes, whenever I told her of a fitness goal achieved.
I don't know who the runners-ups were in those seven races. Do they now get the titles for all those years? I don't know what happens to LIVE STRONG -- Lance's foundation to inspire and encourage cancer survivors to "live life on their own terms." It has raised tens of millions of dollars, most of it on the strength of Lance Armstrong's name. I imagine its mission continues, and continues well -- it is certainly true that we have the power to live what life we have under the conditions in which we have it, and cancer survivors certainly do need encouragement and support in doing so. These things are still true, regardless of the ways in which Lance Armstrong was false. The official biography of the hero is still on the website -- nothing about doping there. Just some stuff about willpower.
Sport brings out the best in people, except when it brings out the worst. Competition is a major engine of human progress and growth, except when its demands supersede fairness. Then it crushes the loser. Which is nothing compared with what it does to the winner.