I still lived in Austin, Texas in 1999. That summer, against all odds, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, new husband, father-to-be, won his first Tour de France in an impressive display of athleticism.
He was a hero, an inspiration. When he returned to Austin, the city held a victory rally, in which park I can’t recall as Austin is loaded with large and picturesque gathering spots. A couple of friends and I went to the rally early to grab a patch of ground close enough to see Armstrong and his miracle-pregnant wife. It wasn’t all about Lance. Austinites need only the flimsiest of reasons to gather outside for a couple of beers. But we did love him. We were so proud of him. Even now, when the whole truth has outed, I can still remember the energy and joy at that rally. And the yellow. Everyone wore yellow.
A few months later, his wife gave birth to their son. The following summer he repeated his Tour victory. Soon, he welcomed twin daughters and claimed another Tour de France victory. Our pride in Armstrong overflowed. He could have done anything.
But then Lance Armstrong took off his hero mask. Sometime after his twins arrived, he left his family. I can’t remember if he already had Sheryl Crow waiting for him. It doesn’t matter really. His marriage didn’t have high conflict, at least not on her part. He might have been cheating or she might have left him due to his doping habit. But in hindsight-enhanced scenarios, he was the culpable party.
My shock at the truth about Lance Armstrong came with the split. I have a few girlfriends who spilled tears over the news. The kind of guy who can abruptly walk away from his wife and his children is capable of almost anything in service of self. So current shock at the truth surprises me. We learned that Lance Armstrong lacked honor back in 2003. The doping simply provides more details and removes any pretense for keeping that scar in the heart of Austin.