From the minute Lance Armstrong announced he was going to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, my thoughts have been consumed by what would be said. I didn’t want to care, Lance has had way too much media coverage lately, when our attention should be directed towards those riders who are still relevant in cycling, the ones we’re going to watch sprint, climb and fall during the 2013 season, but I couldn’t help wondering. Surely he couldn’t confess, the can of worms that would open would be catastrophic for the larger than life Texan, but at the same time there was surely no way he could be so dumb as to deny his involvement in doping with the world watching, knowing USADA have mountains of evidence suggesting he was heavily involved.
The interview was scheduled for 1pm Friday Adelaide time, perfect as far as I was concerned. I pack some headphones into my cycling bag to take to the office so I could watch on a stream on my computer during my lunch break. My wife, Lex, had a routine appointment with her midwife at 9am, so I said I’d perform my supporting husband duties and hang around for the appointment, don the lycra and ride to work with a camera tucked in my jersey pocket ready for Tour Down Under bunch spotting on the way, do a bit of work and settle down to watch Lance break his silence.
The midwife, Erin, turns up and takes Lex’s blood pressure and remarks that Lex looks very swollen in the legs. Of course she is, she’s pregnant and it was 43° yesterday. Erin makes some excuse about her blood pressure cuff being broken (we later find out, like Lance, Erin lied) and says with the swelling we really better take Lex to the hospital to check her blood pressure, and while we’re there we might as well take some blood samples.
There are still 4 hours until ‘Lance o’clock’, so I’m not too concerned and even think that if this takes long enough I can probably watch it from the comfort of my lounge on the big TV! Lex is an avid cycling follower too, in fact she’s responsible for introducing me to the sport, so while we sit waiting in pathology waiting for blood to be taken, we’re both discussing the interview. Lex even remarks that if we’re still in when it starts, they better have a TV, otherwise we’ll have to try and stream it on our phone and share a pair of headphones.
I won’t go into too much of the details, but Erin hasn’t been completely honest with us. She did take Lex’s blood pressure at home, but not wanting either of us freaking out, she used her lies to get us to the hospital where they could monitor everything without us panicking. When 1 o’clock comes and the interview starts, Lex has been through a whole range of tests, but we’re still not really sure how serious it is. There is no TV and no phone coverage in the room they’ve given us, so I put on a terrible Texan accent and pretend to be Lance, confessing my sins to an imaginary Oprah while Lex laughs.
Minutes later, Lance Armstrong is the furthest thing from my mind. Lex is critically, the doctor tells us. Her blood pressure is 220/160 and she is at a severe risk of having a seizure. The only option to treat Lex is for the doctors to remove the baby. We are only 31 weeks into the pregnancy, this can’t be happening. Steroid injections are given to Lex, but not so she can deceive the world and perform superhuman efforts up a mountain, but so that her about to born premature baby’s lungs have some chance of breathing without assistance when delivered. This is what steroids are for Lance, for people who are ill, for people who need assistance just to live, not to give you better chances of winning a bike race.
The doctors try everything, but Lex’s blood pressure won’t drop below 160/120 – still critically high. The steroids take 48 hours to take effect, but we don’t have that time, Lex’s condition is too risky. Erin, who’s been with us the whole time and making Lance jokes with us, get serious and tells us that it’s happening now, we are going to theatre for an emergency Caesarean. The steroids won’t have done anything for the lungs, and though we’re told that survival rates are incredibly high, there are no guarantees the baby will be able to breathe for itself.
Everything happens so quickly, but the doctors assure us that delivering the baby will drop Lex’s blood pressure instantly and the operation goes well, but the baby’s heart stops and after taking a few breaths on its own, the breathing stops too. Lex’s blood pressure has shot up instead of going down, and my wife and baby daughter are both fighting for their life. Lance Armstrong and his deception could not be further from my mind.
By 2am, 17 hours after my day started with anticipation of an interview with a retired cyclist who lied and cheated followers of the sport I love, I’m sitting exhausted in a hospital room staring at my wife hooked up to a raft of machines. Lex. If I stand up I can see through our window into the open window of the Special Care nursery, and there I can see a humidicrib. That humdicrib contains Elke, our daughter, who is happily breathing with the assistance of a machine. Elke weighs just 1.2 kilograms (2 pound 11), but she’s alive and as well as can be expected. It was Erin that organised the windows to be open so I had that view. Erin is a real hero. She lied to me several times during the day, but not because she had a deep, dark secret that was giving her an unfair advantage, but because she was concerned with the welfare of my wife and child and she wanted everyone as calm as possible. Erin and the doctors messed around with drugs and vials, but not so they could help someone ride up a hill faster. I sat in that room unable to hold back the tears, knowing that it had been touch and go for both my girls for a long time, but at the moment, with both declared stable I could finally relax a bit. That was when I started to think about Lance for the first time, and it occurred to me that we shouldn’t even care about Lance Armstrong. There are so many other things in this world that deserve our attention. A has-been cyclist who lied, cheated and bullied throughout his career is not someone we need to waste time on. There are so many real, unsung heroes out there that deserve our respect and admiration.
For what it’s worth, I think Lance has done the right thing. He has a long way to go and a lot of things he needs to do before he can even dream of the forgiveness of a cycling community that wanted to believe his performances were clean. Cycling can only benefit in the long run from this admission as we work towards ensuring our sport is a clean and has a playing field that is level for all riders. It’s not our fault that we can’t help be follow what happens with Lance because we followed him so closely for so long. So no one could blame when at 3am I managed to get some snippets of the interview on my phone and start reading a raft of articles about what was said to Oprah. But how much I really cared had changed forever.
Lance Armstrong is just one person. A person who amazed us, a person who provided highlight reels for us, a person who did some amazing work for Cancer sufferers and for charity. He was very good at riding a bike, regardless of what he did to gain that extra edge, but he’s not a hero, he’s a self interested, megalomaniac who didn’t give a stuff about anything other than beating his rivals. I know who my heroes are, the people that are there for you when life happens – whether that’s family, friends or medical professionals, the people that pick you up when you’re down or provide a friendly ear when you need to talk or who save the lives of your wife and daughter when you had no idea they needed saving. These are the people that make the world tick.
I missed Lance and I’m ok with that. I don’t mean I missed seeing him race, or his presence at the Tour Down Under or his Texan drawl when interviewed after a stage. What I missed was his stage managed, carefully thought out confession sitting next to Oprah Winfrey, and I don’t care one bit. Life is more important that Lance Armstrong will ever be.