I'm not the kind of person who generally puts people on pedestals. Never have been. The last time I wrote on this prompt was tough, because it forced me to be completely honest with one of the most painful experiences of my life up to that point - the death of my grandfather.
I was almost exactly the age when my grandfather died that my youngest daughter was when my Dad died. I promised myself that things would be different for her, and they were, though I'll never be sure if they were better or worse.
It was a hard post to write.
Since then, I've been let down by a lot of people. Too many of them.
Day 14 ~ A hero who has let you down
I first wrote this post a little over a year ago, a few days before the news about him broke. I knew it was coming down and couldn't hold this back any longer. I'll spare you an introduction...the letter explains it all.
You don't know who I am, and I am fairly certain that you don't care. We've never met, even though it feels like I've known you a long time. In fact, I'm absolutely sure that you'll never catch wind of this message I'm about to write to you. I'm not sure that anything I could say to you would matter right now, as you watch the illusioned world you created fall apart around you.
But I'm going to say it all anyway.
Because I need to. Because there is a side of this that isn't going to be talked about enough today. Because right now everyone is focused only on the lies you told to the sports world. Because there is a whole different dimension to the betrayals. Because there are people out there who seem hell bent on defending everything about you. Who immediately rushed to your side, decried those who spoke out, some going to far as to accuse everyone else of being liars, who have slammed those brave enough to blow the whistle.
Everyone else isn't lying.
Then again, it seems like you always have been. That's what I take issue with here today.
I needed you to be who you pretended to be for all those years. I needed you to be the guy that can inspire hope. I needed you to be the guy who came back and beat cancer, who defied the odds, who became a father, who realized the fragility of life and the importance of family. I needed you to be that guy.
I never cared a bit about the damn bike. It wasn't important to me. I didn't look up to you because you won races. I didn't want to root for you because you seemed unstoppable. I never much cared about who crossed that line first.
I cared about you and your life, about your cause and your mission. I cared about all that for another reason entirely.
I cared because a few months after you won your first Tour de France and the world started to notice you, my husband was diagnosed with the same thing you were.
I cared because the only other person we'd ever known to have testicular cancer died.
You didn't die.
You fought, you survived, you thrived.
You gave me hope. You gave my husband hope. You gave our family and friends hope.
You got married to your beautiful wife just a month before we married, and the timing of your story paralleled ours for so long. Your son, born just days after my husband's surgery, gave us the hope that we could overcome the side effects of the treatments. That we could still have kids. That sperm banking and all the cost and humiliation involved was worth it.
We could beat this. We could still have the future we planned for.
I still didn't care about the bike.
Then I got pregnant before my husband started his treatment and we thought maybe we got lucky. It was a miracle. And it was, until I heard the words spoken by a man in a white coat in a dark room that no pregnant women ever wants to hear.
Your baby's heart has stopped beating.
In my sorrow, all I could do was be grateful that we'd banked that sperm. Even if we could never get pregnant again without help, we had that hope to hang on to.
You helped make that happen. You and your wife and your son gave us that hope. The hope we clinged to even more after hearing more words that a young married couple doesn't want to hear.
The treatments have done too much damage. You won't be able to get pregnant. Be thankful you saved sperm.
We had kids, by the way. Without help, and plenty of them. Turns out that the doctor was wrong.
Then, one day in the fall of 2003, I got a bill in the mail from the cryonics lab. Now the parents of two, we had to decide whether it was justified to keep paying for storage of sperm. I held that bill in my hand and cried. Even though we'd been able to get pregnant without help before, would it ever work again? What if we wanted more kids and couldn't have them them, if the prior pregnancies were flukes? Miracles?
I didn't want to let that hope go.
As I held that bill in my hand, ironically in that very moment, a story on the news broke. You'd left your wife, the woman who had endured your training schedules and long times away from home. The woman who'd undergone the hell of IVF multiple times to get pregnant with your three children. The kids? You left them too.
You didn't just give us hope to have kids someday. You gave us hope of normalcy, of stability, of family, of the silver lining on the dark cloud.
Then, just like that, it was gone.
Within weeks you were dating rock stars, though you'd show your true colors even more a few years later when she got sick and you left her too.
About a year after you left your wife, I planned my husband's 5 year survival party. You know as well as we do that if you can make it to five years out with a clean bill of health, you're as close as you'll ever be to cured from this disease.
I bought everyone that came to our celebration your yellow rubber Livestrong wristbands.
I bought them because I thought that in addition to showing support for my husband, we were funding research.
Only your organization had quietly stopped funding research. Places like Radio Shack and sporting goods stores still pushed them happily at customers who wanted to do the right thing. What most people thought was an organization devoted to cancer prevention and research had really evolved into a well-oiled public relations machine for the benefit of one person.
How much money have you raised under false pretenses? How many people like me have given what little we had to a man who misled everyone about what it would be used for? How can you possibly explain the huge reserves your foundation possesses and the small amounts used for actual programming? How are you going to justify the lucrative personal contracts you signed through the contacts you made using this PR machine?
Sure, you started Livestrong with the best of intentions. Or at least I hope you did. Back when you were in recovery yourself and no one knew who you were. Back before those dollar figures were dangled in your face and you started chasing greed on wheels. I want to think it at least started for the right reasons, even if you steered it off course over the years.
Now, today, that foundation with it's automatic association to you, has been built on lies. People donated to you because your were this so-called inspirational athlete. You were the guy who won seven times. People gave because of who you were and what you'd done. Except it was all a lie.
I don't care at all about the doping scandal except for the part where it affects people who are better people than you are. You know them, all those former teammates and assistants and reporters who tried to out you in the past. Who you turned your rage and revenge on. The people that donated to your foundation without knowing who you were? Yeah, they are better than you too.
You cheated. So did most cyclists. I'm not one of those naive sports fans who believes that you will all play fair. You will, I assume, at some point start pointing fingers yourself. Once the truth comes to light and you can no longer deny it, you'll turn on everyone else. That's what you do. The difference between you and them? You were the kingpin of it all. With the elaborate schemes. With first dibs on everything. With the most weight to throw around, with the highest level of unashamed intimidation. You didn't care about ruining other people's careers and lives. You stepped on anyone you had to in order to climb to the top.
No one else, nothing else mattered to you.
And that's the part that I just really don't understand. You'll have to forgive me for this. I just can't wrap my head around how someone who has walked the path of cancer, who has escaped death, who has overcome insurmountable odds can care so little about other people.
You make it look good, you send out your videos online, you wrote that inspirational book. You take a great picture for the press. You seem like the good guy. Deep down, though, you're not.
And the world is about to learn who you really are.
You're a guy who leaned on those you needed most until you didn't need them anymore, then you discarded them. You're a guy who manipulated and used and skirted the system in any possible way you could. You're a guy who told blatant lies to the world for over a decade, then pretended to act surprised when reality came raining down on you. You're a guy who takes other people's money and figures out a way to twist it and shape it to your benefit. You're a guy still trying to distract the world from the inevitable truths that are coming to light with each day.
And, to me, you're just a disappointment.
There have been many who've said that we shouldn't idolize athletes, that it's wrong. That it places impossible demands on them to be somehow perfect in a flawed world. I would argue they are absolutely correct. I never wanted you to be perfect, I never expected you to play fair, I never wanted you to be a record breaking cyclist.
I never cared about the bike.
What I cared about, what I expected was for you to be a good guy who went through the same hell we did and made it to the other side with your integrity intact. Who saw the fragility of life. Who valued those people you should.
And it had nothing to do with the bike.
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