The Heroes Among Us: What We Must Learn from Armstrong's Fall from Grace

Why Armstrong's story should challenge our definition of what it means to be a hero.

At first, there are no words.  As I listen to the now notorious Lance Armstrong interview, I find myself struggling to comprehend the blatant disconnect between what he’s saying and what he actually did.  But it’s not long before my confusion turns to anger, blood boiling, bordering on rage. 

Lord knows Armstrong is not the first professional athlete to cheat and then lie about it.  The behavior has become a rather disturbing par-for-the-course in professional sports.  But unlike, say, the egotistical Barry Bonds, Armstrong was revered as a survivor, an inspiration – a hero.  Honors he never deserved to have and responsibilities he abused every step of the way.

So my disgust stems from the fact that as a fitness professional and a staff member at the Darien YMCA, I dedicate every hour of my day to educating, motivating—and yes, inspiring—people to become better versions of their current selves.  From children to adults, my colleagues and I strive to teach the importance of hard work, dedication, and that oh-so-critical attribute of strong moral character as the pillars of success.  But, as Armstrong’s story proves, when driven by greed, there’s always another way. 

That said, I refuse to be disappointed.  Instead, I find the urge to ask all of us to stop looking up to personalities on pedestals and to start looking around us, to the everyday people in our lives who are doing extraordinary things.  Earlier this week, we named our first-ever Member of the Month at the Y, a daunting task considering that over 5,000 local residents call our facility home.  We chose Ali Rahbar (pictured above), a member who has lost over 80lbs. in the past year and a half, armed with nothing more but hard work, dedication and a membership to the Darien YMCA.

When I interviewed Ali about his transformation earlier this week, he was candid in his admission that the process has been incredibly difficult, saying that at times it “sucked” to the point where he contemplated giving up.  I understood these emotions all too well, because continuously, consciously choosing the right thing—whether that’s passing on a piece of chocolate cake or a performance-enhancing substance—is hard.   It’s precisely what makes the journey so rewarding.  It’s what differentiates between victory and legitimate triumph.

So I’m choosing to call Ali my hero, and I hope you can find an Ali of your own.  I mean, to me, that’s the true definition of a “level playing field”:  finding motivation from someone who walks besides you and accomplishes their own goals.

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Margaret Callahan January 22, 2013 at 01:52 AM
"Just a guy riding his bike for a living"? Are you kidding me? He duped and betrayed EVERYONE, especially cancer sufferers. Real heroes are people like Suzanne who really care and aren't making million.
Suzanne Vita Ponticello January 22, 2013 at 02:38 AM
Margaret - I'm humbled. Thank you so very much for your stance and kind words. I'm baffled by people's willingness to excuse his actions away by claiming that the ends justified the means.
Suzanne Vita Ponticello January 22, 2013 at 07:48 PM
And that, AZ, was the entire point of my blog.
R. Ludlowe January 22, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Unfortunately, his legacy will be one in which parents point at him and say "look what happens when you cheat" instead of "look at all of the good things he did for cancer research." Fortunately, that's still a good message to teach your kids. Its just not what Lance wants to be remembered for.
Kevin kolenda January 23, 2013 at 04:47 PM
WOW finally . . . this shouldn't be a surprise to a sensible person, As I was one of the people involved with provided prizes for Lance's contests and THE first co. on the internet for prize awards at sports events (100,000 or so around the world). We knew 25+ years ago that people "cheat" "cut corners" "break the rules" in sports contests. I was verifying these sports claims (probably the only one in the world) 15 years before Lance started doping. IT HAPPENS. ITS SAD when it gets to that level, (its also human nature). I have witnessed numerous fraudulent winning sport claims from hometown-locals (Stamford, Danbury, Hartford) to national level events. Even in golf, (maybe the highest integrity sport). Speaking out from the onset (very quietly) as no-one wanted to believe the opposite, with smoking gun facts, while continually chastised? What is REALLY DEPLORABLE are the (officials, state regulators, politicians, agencys, people, partners etc) I have come in contact with, that KNEW, ignored the truth and THEN used these NON-compliant winners, "grabbing onto their coattails" per se, looking the other way ONLY for PR & their OWN personal gain. . . . Lance "manned up" . . . now they ALL have to be exposed (CT demanded to shut down our web sites that documented these facts) (any 1st amendment lawyers out there?) . . . that will be MUCH LARGER STORY in the future as the names will be household http://www.hole-in-won.com/HIOrule-breakers.htm http://www.kevinkolenda.com


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