The Deaths of Two Heroes

Armstrong is a name much in the news this week.

Neil and Lance.

Two heroes. Both dead.

One of natural causes at the end of a long and storied life of humility and public service. The other had his reputation killed at the end of a long-drawn-out and sordid scandal.

One will be a hero forever…enshrined in our memories – forever in my opinion – as the stuff of legend and worship like the Odyssey, the Kon-Tiki, the Vikings, Marco Polo and many other trailblazers from many ages and cultures the world over. Neil Armstrong will be an icon of what we can achieve as people with the added grace and modesty that the truly great bring to our world.

The other will be remembered as a fallen hero and will of course have a few die-hard fans and protectors (all fallen angels do), while most will hold up his tarnished memory as a lesson to what people will do to stay on top and the dangers of a culture that demands “winners” and rewards the fastest, richest, strongest no matter what. Lance Armstrong will be an icon of the sad outcome of excess that has no limits in its pursuit of success.

At one time – they were similar figures in my personal pantheon of heroes. While I never met Neil Armstrong, I am and have always been enamored with space travel, and as a teenager I remember watching his moonwalk and spending a sleepless night in awe of his accomplishment that ignited my imagination in ways that still spark today.

I did meet Lance, though, and was involved in the famous sponsorship of his Racing Team by the US Postal Service many years ago. Truth is, he ignited all of our imaginations too. Imagine a US Team winning the Tour de France – unheard of – absurd. But he was so passionate – so convincing – so sincere. They won – and won again – and again – crazy (it was a great sponsorship!). His illness. The comeback – amazing…LIVESTRONG – I was/am a supporter and believer. And then this…bad enough the allegations; the letdown – the notion that other athletes who suffered and toiled in pain without enhancements lost to a machine – worse…no accountability – none. And what about the cause? How the mighty have fallen.

So a thought as we near the end of August – two Armstrongs; two heroes – both had dreams that others thought were impossible. Both faced negative odds that most would not bet against. Both tilted at windmills…but with diametrically opposite outcomes…

Listen to this small piece from my favorite play of all timeCyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand:

DE GUICHE (who has controlled himself, smiling): …Have you read ‘Don Quixote’?

CYRANO: Yes. And take off my hat to that knight of mad excess.

DE GUICHE: So think again…About the chapter on windmills!…For when you tilt at windmills you often find…That a swirl of the sails on their huge arms will hurl you in the mire!…

CYRANO: Or among the stars!

One was hurled in the mire – the other among the stars.

Two Armstrongs – two outcomes – the mire and the stars.

I for one will be celebrating the life and achievements of Neil – who is truly among the stars…and hoping that LIVESTRONG will not be tainted by the mire.

What do you think?

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