Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The elephant in the room

In late 2011 I happened across a (then) fledgling social networking site for athletes by the name of Strava. I was just getting into being active and enjoyed the idea of being able to review training sessions and workouts of friends and elite athletes. From even my earliest days of triathlon I harbored a tenacity to be world champion... and to be the best you have to surround yourself by excellence, so I followed the likes of pro-cyclist Ted King of the Liquigas-Cannondale team, local legend Chris Phipps who rides up OLH in 15 on a mellow day, and a young man who I could only surmise as being an up and coming Mexican or Spaniard by the name of Juan Pelota.

Now my new internet friend, Juan, was relatively unknown (less than 100 friends) and super active: one day scaling the French Alps and the next hammering down the blistering Queen Kaahumanu hwy. Boulder, Hawaii, Europe, you name it he'd done it and a little something inside of me wondered whether through hard effort and relentless determination I'd one day get there too.

After months shadowing Juan I noticed that he was gaining a strong follower contingent on Strava... it wasn't uncommon to see 20+ "kudos" (the social currency on strava) on his workouts. "Wow this guy must be putting out some really strong performances in LATAM" I thought to myself... so I did some digging. His workouts suggested he was a triathlete and a long distance one at that. I started my search on athlinks.com but came up dry (as it often does) so I went through all the Ironman races of 2010-2012 ctrl-F'ing through the professional and amateur rosters. Nada. Wow... this guy is really flying under the radar, where the h*ll is he racing, I want a piece of that!! I simmered on the mystery for few days and as with all epiphanies, happened across the answer zoned out during a long swim set. Juan Pelota. One Ball. I'd been following the Lance Armstrong, heck he'd even responded to one of my comments!

Now I am not and have never been a Lance fanboy. I knew little of his conquests and was as far removed from pro-cycling as anyone can be. For perspective: I thought there was just one pro cycling event (le Tour de France) and in general found cycling to be a sport for sissies, but still... the name recall stunned me. Here's someone who loves sport for the sake of sport, I thought. Someone who's dropped all semblance of his identity to enjoy it like the rest of us. I liked this guy, and as the demons of his past started to surface I found myself standing up for him.

Now my pops is another story. Dad was raised straight-edge catholic and gramps doesn't have any tolerance for cheaters. In fact, grandad believes so strongly in God, the commandments, and the afterlife that he one told me life wouldn't be worth living if there weren't anything after. It's not hope in life after death for gramps, it's a conviction in something after. So as you can imagine, Gramps and Dad (presumably by association) both have pretty strong moral compasses. And no, they're not raging conservatives (they're socialist if you must know) but religious in a very European/Quebecois sense of the term. Recently while carpooling to the office, Dad went ballistic about the MLB hall of fame process and the fact that guys like Bonds were even under consideration. Cheating disgusts him and he couldn't fathom how I wasn't repulsed by Mr. Armstrong.

I've found myself thinking a lot about all of the above since news of LA's "infidelity" broke out. Why don't I hate him? I have a firm belief that to become a champion it takes a single-minded purposeful focus on one thing: winning. To what extent would I go to be the best?

One of my favorite college professors shared this oped about Lance with me recently, which inadvertently shed some light on these answers. What I discovered is that my quest, my life's purpose so to speak, is to find happiness. We all find this happiness in different places... it's the beauty of life... nature's delicate balance... it's what put cars on the road, planes in the sky, reality shows on TV, heck even a filed tax return. Money, fame, and all the material pleasures of the world CAN NOT buy what brings you joy in this journey we call life.

I don't hate Lance because for all his failings what he represented through our one-sided relationship on that social network – love for sport for the sake of sport – inspired me. After years of going through the motions as a classical guitarist and then as an almost banker in the corporate world, he helped me find my real happiness and I will now spend a lifetime pursuing that happiness in an honest way.

The kicker is I thought I knew Juan Pelota, and as I followed his activity naively for months and uncovered his true identity I rationalized it as guy who'd started to find that happiness I speak of (albeit privately and under a pseudonym). As I later discovered, Juan Pelota is a somewhat famous pseudonym for Lance (he owns a coffee shop by that name) and I now sit conflicted, realizing this whole mystery and subsequent idolization of a man may have been built on lies after all.

In sum, I guess I haven't come to terms with my thoughts on Lance. He's hurt a lot of people and stripped the more deserving of victories they should have won... but he has also helped millions overcome cancer (even if in brand alone) as well as one dreamer (moi) in his process of self discovery.

At the end of the day, and regardless of how the public process of vindication will be carried out, I know that Juan has only himself to answer to. And the thought of the justice that has been, and will continue to be, carried out in that head of his gives me faith that the elephant in the room will sort itself out.

p.s. It's a baby step, but Juan Pelota recently changed his Strava display name to Lance Armstrong.

1 comment: