Lance Armstrong evokes strong feelings in many people. Admirers point to his impressive athletic career beginning as a teen and culminating in seven Tour de France victories. More influential to admirers and even those casually aware of Armstrong is his 1996 battle with aggressive testicular cancer which has spread to other parts of his body. Armstrong faced and overcame a grim prognosis of  less than 50% survival. The foundation he founded, Livestrong, continues to help others and their families deal with the diagnosis of cancer through education, grants, and advocacy.

Detractors point out that a large portion of Armstrong’s impressive athletic career was aided by illegal performance enhancing drugs. Furthermore, Armstrong strongly denied use of performance enhancers and aggressively countered accusers – calling them liars or suing them.

Things turned decidedly negative for Armstrong this past year when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a report documenting evidence of illegal performance-enhancing drug use extending back sixteen years. Armstrong chose not to dispute USADA and was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling. International organizations followed suit, and the end of 2012 saw Armstrong disgraced, bereft of corporate sponsors, and facing possible legal action.

2013 now turns the page for Armstrong with his interview with Oprah Winfrey this past week. Armstrong was mostly candid and contrite with Oprah in admitting his wrong-doing. A few of his own words below convey the essence of the interview.

“I know the truth. The truth isn’t what was out there. The truth isn’t what I said, and now it’s gone—this story was so perfect for so long.”

“And then the ultimate crime is the betrayal of these people who supported me and believed in me, and they got lied to.”

All of the reasons for his decision to admit his use of performance enhancers and acknowledge the wrong done to those who accused him of performance enhancer use will probably never be known.

Moving forward, I think that there are three things that we as adults and parents should take away from Armstrong’s story and share with our children. Again, I think Armstrong’s own words help.

Tolerance of cheating

Speaking of use of performance enhancers…….“That was like saying we have to have air in our tires or we have to have water in our bottles. “That was, in my view, part of the job.”

Lack of Humility

“Yes, I was a bully. I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn’t like what someone said I turned on them.”

Loss of Perspective

“My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike, but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance.”

A recent study reported that 3.3% of high school students admitted to anabolic steroid use. Those using performance enhancers such as anabolic steroids risk damage to vital organs such as the heart, liver, and reproductive organs. I believe the health risk is even higher in teens and young adults. It is up to us to counter the attraction to performance enhancers.

Fostering a culture of sport fairplay where cheating is not acceptable and competition is rewarded, whether or not a win is achieved, is a first step. Lastly, remembering that, unlike Armstrong, most of a person’s life is not spent in pursuit of athletic excellence. The single-minded pursuit of a “win at all costs” goal may compromise more important lifelong things such as family, friends, or a career.

As a self-described ‘techie,’ Joel Steelman, M.D., has a keen interest in the wise use of technology to improve medical care. Since 2001, he has helped implement electronic medical recordkeeping in two endocrine practices. He still loves to write, and he is a regular contributor to the Physician Perspective  page on the Cook Children’s Web site.

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