This weekend I swam two distance events and several sprint events at a Masters Swim Meet in Walnut Creek, California (for those of you who aren’t swimmers, the Masters Swimming organization is essentially the adult league for swimmers). I enjoy these competitions because they give me something to focus on and work towards – when it’s easier to get out of the water or skip practice I remember that I want to do better at the next meet. As swimmers go, I am pretty darn slow, but the drive is always there to do better.
My weekend race was in the days immediately following the most recent allegations against Lance Armstrong, and the New York Times and several other papers had just run stories explaining the purported elaborate, systematic scheme by which the Armstrong team cheated. I don’t know if he cheated; part of me really doesn’t want to believe it and part of me read the evidence and can’t imagine how it could not be true… except for the fact that the man has never tested positive for a banned substance or practice. I think it’s interesting how the USADA (US Anti Doping Agency) has built a story… or case… around Armstrong that makes it almost impossible for him to be innocent, except that they have no actual physical, bio/chemical proof. Is it a witch hunt or is Armstrong so slippery that he has avoided detection and we’re watching the work of a justified organization pursuing someone they know is guilty? The only certain truth is that we, the general public, will probably never know.
But back to my race this weekend. My first event was the 1500 meter freestyle; that’s sixty lengths of the pool, which equals almost a mile. As I was slogging through those sixty lengths, pushing myself to maintain a pace, it occurred to me how this push could drive a person to cheat. For me, there was no way to cheat; I was in a pool and there’s no short cut and no way to fool the judges into believing that I’d already completed laps I hadn’t. But I could understand why someone would want to make it easier to do better – especially if it were your life’s work or your source of income.
I have never used illegal or dangerous performance enhancing drugs – I’ve never had much reason to. But I have taken nutritional supplements that promise to make me healthier – iron, multi-vitamins, protein powder, carb gels and even the occasional teaspoon of creatine way back in the 1990s. I can see where and why people in Armstrong’s position would be tempted to take that one step further. That drive to compete and win is strong – stronger in some of us than others – and it can alter your perception of reality.
To Armstrong – I really hope you didn’t cheat. If you did, I get it; I understand why, but that doesn’t make it right.