|ESPN.com: Endurance||[Print without images]|
|Lance Armstrong seems happier than when he was lying and competing.|
AUSTIN, Texas -- What I wanted was to find him slumped in his uneasy chair, naked nails on the wall, haircut in his hands, not even a poodle by his side.
I wanted someone who was sorry -- sorry for what he'd done, sorry for what was next, sorry to be stuck in his new, sorry life.
But that's not what I found.
Lance Armstrong is happy. In fact, he looks better at 42 than I've ever seen him, less gaunt in the face, thicker in the chest, bluer in the eyes. I found a man sitting in his den, surrounded by his seven Tour de France chalices, his 3-year-old, Olivia, on his lap, kissing him and laughing.
Really pissed me off.
I came to see ruins, not joy. I came to see a man ruined for lying to me for 14 years -- and letting me pass those lies on to you. Ruined for lying to everybody. And not just lying to the world, but lying angrily, lying recklessly and leaving good people wrecked in his lies.
It wasn't enough he'd been stripped of his seven wins, not enough that, so far, he'd lost half his estimated $120 million fortune to lawsuits, had to sell homes, his jet, lost every single endorsement (another $150 million), his earning capacity, and his association with the very foundation he started and built, Livestrong-- with two more lawsuits to go.
Yet here he was telling me he was "at peace" with it. I didn't want him at peace. I wanted him in pieces.
|After Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah about doping, he lost an estimated $150 million in future endorsements.|
"There's a lightness to my life now," he says. "I have no obligations. I have no schedule other than raising my kids, what time my tee time is, how far I'm gonna ride my bike that day. Life has become very simple very quickly. ... I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere. Nobody's waiting on the other end."
And this is a good thing?
"I'm at the bottom, but I like establishing a base. When I was diagnosed, they told me I had testicular cancer. Then it spread to the abdomen. Then the lungs. Then the brain. I was devastated. But at that point, it was as bad as it could get. And I was like, 'OK, now, I know everything. Now I have to get better from here.' I'm in that place now. Not cancer, but now I know everything. I'm at the base."
This is why I came, to ask him, straight up.
Me: "Why did you lie to me, repeatedly, all those years?"
Him: "I couldn't go, 'Well, Rick, since you've asked me for the 10th time, I'm going to tell you the truth this time.' You can't. You're stuck. You're deep in it, and there's no getting out. The waves keep coming at you -- the sport, the team, the media, the sponsors, the foundation, the family -- and you can't stop. ... My issue was being so adamant. I'm the one who elevated it to the degree it got to. It was on me. It was my fault."
I stared at him.
Me: "Why should I believe anything you say now?"
Him: "You shouldn't. My credibility is shot. I've lost the thing that matters the most to people -- trust. It feels terrible, but I know that, hopefully, with time, trust is earned back."
What about his significant other, Anna Hansen, the mother of two of his five kids? How can she trust anything he says?
|Anna Hansen says cycling isn't why she loves Lance Armstrong.|
Because, when it comes to cycling, she says she never did.
"Even before I met him [in 2008], I figured there was enough evidence," says Hansen, 32. "It seemed likely that he'd done something. ... But cycling isn't why I love Lance anyway. [The two met through cancer work.] It's not an issue for me. I don't live in fear of it. People tell lies. They're flawed. We all are. I think Lance has learned a lot from it. He's changed."
I see a little of that now. I see a much calmer guy, more patient. I see a guy who used to be surrounded by a dozen people, now alone. I see a guy who used to live and die by the hundredth of a second, now not entirely sure what day it is.
"I remember [when I was diagnosed with cancer] thinking, 'I might not see Christmas. I might not see my son [Luke, now 14] graduate high school.' But this doesn't threaten that. I'm going to see Christmas. I'm going see him graduate."
Me: "Don't you realize how many people hate you over this?"
Him: "I just don't care. In the past, I cared what people said, thought or wrote. I thought it would affect my livelihood. But that's been decimated now. When I walk through airports now, a guy could say, 'Hey you f---ing a--h---! You're the biggest jerk on the face of the earth!' I'd say, 'Right on, pal.'"
Armstrong even reads his Twitter feedback, which is a kind of hecklers' heaven. "Some guy the other day said, 'Hey, you cheating f---. You deserve to get cancer again and die.'"
So why read it?
"Because there's people on there that need my help. Cancer patients. Families going through it."
And here, at last, is where a little sorry finally breaks through...
"That's probably the most heartbreaking part," he says, twisting his hands. "I've been taken out of that space when there was no lying at all. Having the disease and overcoming the disease, that was all real. Millions of people helped by us? That was all real. But that's over now."
So now what?
No endorser will touch him. Nobody wants him to speak, even for free. He is banned from any marathon, triathlon, bike race, 10k, 2k sneak, even if it's for charity. He'd like to write another book, work with cancer patients again, maybe have a role in sports. But that all seems eons away.
And yet it doesn't scare him.
"People are going to call bulls--- on this, but I've never been happier. Never been happier with myself or my family. My kids suffer no bullying at school. Nobody says anything to them. They're doing great. Anna and I are extremely happy and content. It's true."
As I left, I thought about my motives for coming at all.
If a man has suffered the loss of more than half his wealth and 100 percent of his reputation, how much more blood should I want? I felt a little shame in coming at all.
As I come to the end of my sportswriting career, I wonder whether I need to make peace, too. Peace with the athletes who thrilled me, then disgusted me. Pete Rose, Ben Johnson, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong. Peace with letting myself be thrilled, and then fooled, time and again. Why carry it as I go? And if Armstrong is over it, why aren't I? "You've got to live life no matter what's going on," Anna says. "Cancer teaches you that. Life isn't going to wait."
So I forgive Lance Armstrong for all the lies, though he's not asking for my forgiveness. And maybe I forgive myself for letting myself be lied to in the first place. And I thank him for the hope he still gives the millions who still believe in him, though I'm not one of them.
The road lies open ahead of us both. Life isn't going to wait.