Lance Armstrong: Blow to kids' idol, brings new respect for Dad

Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France medals today, and this household of cycling fans has equal parts disappointment with their former idol and respect for their dad who flirted with pro cycling and left because of the pressures of doping.

Stefano Rellandini/Reuters
Lance Armstrong cycles down a mountain during the Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand stage of the 2004 Tour de France. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from competing on Oct. 22, 2012.

Today my four sons lost their hero Lance Armstrong when the International Cycling Union agreed with US authorities on the charges he’s both a doper and a pusher, stripping him of all seven Tour de France titles. Maybe that’s a good thing because they learned that their dad, who once had a shot at pro-cycling and shied from it because he feared the pressure of an ingrained doping circuit, was telling the truth and not just making excuses.

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Learning that the International Cycling Union has stripped Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles for not only doping, but allegedly bullying teammates into doing the same, is like learning Superman doesn’t hail from Planet Krypton and Clark Kent faked all his stories for the Daily Planet.

Mr. Armstrong denies doping, but chose not to fight USADA saying the process was biased against him. Now my boys roll their eyes at him and think he's the one making excuses. Our 18-year-old, who’s body has become a temple as he rows crew and who wants to be in law enforcement, is feeling particularly betrayed. “I believed in him. I really believed and it made me sick to know he’s not just a doper, but a pusher as well,” he said. “I feel stupid for holding on so long too. I’m just so angry at him.”

For months my sons have sought the truth and fallen back on excuses such as, “Well he’s done good things for cancer research.” True. That’s true, but if there were an International Parenting Union, we would have to flag that as well because he devastated the ability of any athlete to champion a cause by creating world-class doubts.

Our son Avery, 13, has gone into dejected shrug mode, “Well, he did win. I guess that’s something. He did amazing things, but…he cheated so they weren’t really real.”

Quin, 8, asked the tough one, “OK, so how do I know who to believe anymore?”

Thinking about it, the dawn finally broke for me, “You can trust the people you actually know: your father, brothers, and you can trust me,” I said.

Since our eldest son was a toddler it has been our family tradition to watch the Tour de France and hear all of my husband’s insights from his school days of cycling. He was one of those guys shaped by the film 'Breaking Away' and later, after meeting some pro cyclists, he changed his life path because he believed what they told him back in the early 1980s about the pressures of doping.

Our kids have heard a hundred tellings of how he’d wanted to be a pro cyclist, “But I knew I could never live that kind of a lie.”

Up until now the boys had rolled their eyes and thought their dad was just trying to rationalize his “failing.” He still cycles daily. He also sails in Laser competitions and runs, but his dream never went the distance because he believed – rightly so – that he would have to compromise his values. What did Dad become? He became a designer  for a major daily newspaper here in Virginia, to which he bikes like the roads of Norfolk are those on the Tour de France in Paris – just with more potholes.

Today, the boys know the real winner was their dad and all the other athletes who chose not to dope or live a lie. They learned that winning isn’t winning if it came dishonestly. Most importantly, they learned that no power on earth can strip you of the title of 'Honest Person' unless you let them.

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