Friday, January 25, 2013

What makes a hero?

I remember growing up who my heroes were, men like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Perhaps a fictional character like Spiderman or Batman and for sure my dad, a smattering of uncles and most definitely my grandfather. Now THERE was a bonafide hero! A man who, even when I caught up to his towering height and surpassed him, loomed larger than life, at least in my eyes. He never swore in front of me, or other kids, until I suppose he felt like I was old enough to swear myself. He served during WWII but never asked for any recognition of his service. In fact he rarely even talked about the War. He was a man who knew how to relax and taught me how to garden and fish and took me when the opportunity presented itself. He inspired me to work on my own vehicles and be as self sufficient as possible. He taught me how to go on a bike ride, not to ride a bike, but how to enjoy the ride. He never got rich monetarily despite his efforts to scratch off every instant lottery ticket he could get his hands on, but he lived a life rich in love and those whom loved him. He stayed married and faithful to my grandmother for a very long time and never said an unkind word to her, or about her. If ever there was one person who taught me how to be a man and how to love, I can't think of a better example...

As I grew older I never really got into sports but I did watch basketball and even played a little in school. I remember players like “Magic” Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul Jabar and Michael Jordan. Those were some GREAT players! I can't say that I ever looked on them as heroes though, just great ball players. As I got older these players retired and new ones took their places, players who made more money and got more endorsements deals and quite frankly could never achieve the level of mastery of the game as those before them. And when did Pro basketball players become such good actors falling all over the floor in dramatic fashion trying to “draw the foul”? No, these are not heroes, at least not when they are playing the game. I know that a lot of professional athletes do a lot of great work outside their profession but the mere fact that they are athletes does not, in my mind, make them heroes.

Now we have entered the era where “performance enhancing drugs (steroids)” seem to have become the norm, or at LEAST far too commonplace. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong... WHAT?!? Lance ARMSTRONG??? no... Not seven time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Not the man who I admired for not only beating cancer but going on to win races afterward. Not the guy I looked up to because he showed me what could be accomplished after fighting cancer. Damn you Lance! That HURT! I know that the bible teaches forgiveness and that we are forgiven, but dude... I'm not sure I can forgive you. I have struggled since my transplant to put my life back together, to find some sense of purpose, to retain those dreams I had before - and in you I saw someone who wouldn't let cancer get in the way of their dreams. And you denied the allegations, vehemently and repeatedly. Only it was a lie... Now I find myself rethinking everything about where I'm going cause ya see, I don't DO drugs. I didn't even want to take the medications the doctors ordered me to take. After my splenectomy I stopped taking the pain pills early because I didn't want to become addicted. At every turn I ask the doctors when I can start weaning off the meds I'm on (I'm down to ONE!). The fact that you would do such a thing is unconscionable, unfathomable to me. How COULD YOU?!? Forget the cycling fans, how could you put up such a front as a cancer warrior and then show the world that it was all built on a foundation of cards? I don't even know how to separate the cancer warrior Lance from the doping Lance...  Was any of it real?

I guess it's time to take a step back and really look at who we look up to and why, and perhaps look at who our kids look up to and why. As a cancer survivor I'll look to those who faced the unknown with bravery, courage and an eye toward the future. As a man I'll look to those who helped mold me into the man I have become like my grandfather, my father and my uncles. As a father I'll start taking a hard look at who my sons and daughter look up to and make sure they are not only worth looking up to but that my children know how to really pick a hero. As a Christian I'll try, Lance, to find forgiveness in my heart but I don't think that cycling should let you back in. I think Lance needs to take a good hard look at who he is, and who he wants to be. He's got a long hard road ahead and by finally fessing up to the doping he has pedaled the first stage but there will surely be many more and the terrain will be challenging.  I wish him the best of luck and I hope he has found his courage and a more than a little humility, he's going to need it...

As for myself piecing my life back together post-transplant, it is proving difficult, heroes or no heroes. Ultimately, I think we have to look inside for our heroes. I never asked to be a hero to anyone, but then again I guess the best heroes never really did either. What do you think makes a great hero?

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