Lance Armstrong a fallen hero...

Yesterday, I saw the news that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released its 200 page report alleging that Lance Armstrong not only had doped, but had also masterminded a complex doping ring that included many of his teammates at US Postal Service and later Discovery Channel team.  You can read all 200 pages of it here... (I did last night, for hours..)  Many former teammates, friends, and trainers are now testifying against him.

This story has affected me more than I thought.  For me cycling was a respite for a rough life at home.  It was also my main transportation throughout my teens and most of the time I was in college.  I have logged thousands of miles on my Raleigh and Giant bikes.  When my Giant road bike was stolen three years ago, I felt as I lost a body part.  Cycling is a sport that I have always followed, and have always been a huge fan of Lance Armstrong.  I distinctly remember vehemently defending him in 2003 against the allegations of cheating by my then French girlfriend Karine.  I was a big stubborn asshole about it.  I wanted so badly to believe in his inspiring story of conquering testicular cancer and then making a big come back.

A year earlier in 2002 I had a testicular cancer scare (and another in 2009, 2011) from a cyst that occasionally grows.  Being the information junkie that I am, in no time, I came across Lance Armstrong's book "Its not about the bike".  I loved it.  It chronicles his illness with testicular cancer and his subsequent comeback to cycling.  I liked his hard work ethic and kick some ass mentality.  I sought to emulate that in my academic and athletic life.  Needless to say he is a big hero to me.

My first love was cycling, I wanted to be a pro mountain bike racer at one point.  At another I had a dream of being a pro bike mechanic.  In college I joined the crew team, another sport requiring inhuman endurance.  Later in medical school I learned that I had an enlarged heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for you medical nerds) likely as a result of my long term cycling and rowing in college.   Rowers and cyclists are known for having huge hearts and low heart rates (mine frequently sets off EKG machines as it beats below 60bpm at rest).  Lance Armstrong's heart is so efficient that he is around 34 bpm!

Since college I have always had high hematocrits, frequently over 50.  In fact if I were to compete in the Tour de France nowadays, I would be disqualified because my hematocrits are too high.  I have always ranged between 49 and 55.  I had 2 different doctors ask whether I had ever doped or taken EPO when I was in college (I have not).  Consequently, when rumors started to abound surrounding Lance Armstrong having abnormally high hematocrits, I assumed he was innocent and just had naturally high levels like me.

As it turns out, it seems that Lance Armstrong has likely been using performance enhancing drugs for a long time now.  Allegations include cortisone, testosterone, HGH, EPO, and blood doping.  His doctors have all been named and it seems that they had a carefully designed program to keep his hematocrits high while evading detection.  (I will spare everyone the technical details, but if you are interested, contact me, it is fascinating!)

It is with great sadness that I see my hero fall.  One of the greatest stories in sports seems likely a fraud.  When I look back at it, there was one thing that bothered me... In his book, he describes his tumors in detail...  A large one on his testicle, 13 in his lungs, abdomen, and 2 in his brain.  How the hell does a cyclist not notice that?  The second thing that bothered later (after Medical school) was whether he had been taking something that would have increased the growth and spread of his cancer such as testosterone or HGH.   Especially, for someone in tune with his body to have caught it at such a late stage.  Hormones and cancer go hand in hand, especially cancers of the reproductive tract. 

I feel like I knew all along that his story was improbable, yet we all wanted to believe him.  Such a great human feat!  I think it is just a matter of time now for everything to come out.  Until then, I am mourning the loss of my sports hero.