If you're a marathon runner, you know the self-examination, the total lack of pretense the sport forces upon you. The miracle and challenge of an endurance sport is that the effort strips you naked of any guise or personality crutch. Through some alchemy of sweat, mileage and exhaustion, your true self is propelled to the forefront.
As a nineteen-time marathoner, I can tell you exactly when it happens - five minutes on the other side of your body's glycogen store, which is usually just past mile twenty. That's when, even if you're running in the midst of 25,000 runners, the grim reality sets in that you're totally on your own and there's no way to finish without pain.
That's the moment. That's the instant when your true self screams for attention and remains in your head as your only company to the end of the race. And God help you if your true self, the one who has to keep you going for the last few miles, is a really rotten person.
Those miles in the sole company of your true self answer every question about what kind of person you are. Reality smacks you across the face with all the finesse of a street brawler and a clarity usually achieved only after months in a therapist's office. And it's in those moments that you find redemption. You see a better path or maybe even conclude you're already on the right one. But one thing is sure - you don't get the option of never examining the question at all.
It's easy to push those moments of truth to the back of your mind in the giddiness of the finish, but they never go away. Once you've been forced to meet your true self, it's like having a squatter take up permanent residence in your home. And if your true self and your public persona don't match, the result will ultimately be disastrous, because one day the true self will throw a coming out party that's guaranteed to be excruciating.
That's why Lance's lies go beyond the typical pro baseball player/weight lifter/running back steroid admissions. Lance rode thousands of grueling training miles and pushed himself to the limit in countless endurance events, including a couple of marathons. So I know he had to face his true self not just once, but many times. And that person was a cheat, a liar and the kind of bully willing to dedicate a mind-boggling amount of time, energy, and money to ruining anyone, including long-time friends, who might reveal his secret. The depth, length and brazenness of his behavior is rivaled only by Bernie Madoff's decades long Ponzi scheme where he was hailed as a master of the financial universe and generous philanthropist while ripping off his poor I'm-so-grateful-to-be-included-in-his-fund investors.
I'm not naive. Yes, I am a preacher's daughter, I went with my parents when they served overseas as missionaries, I played the piano for all their churches, and I went to college and law school at Baylor University, a Christian school. On the other hand, I've been a trial lawyer in high stakes cases for 25 years, which means I've seen just about every form of deception, rationalization, dirty tricks, money-whipping, avarice, lust and narcissism a human being is capable of.
Lance's conduct rivals the worst I've ever seen. It's got it all - greed, lies, cheating, selfishness and extraordinary cruelty to people not financially or emotionally capable of defending themselves from the high paid army of lawyers he sicced on them.
I know Lance never pretended to be a Christian, but he did pretend to have a modern day white knight's nobility of spirit, battling in endurance sports not only for himself but for cancer patients everywhere. He wasn't forced into the role - he created it. Now we know why. It provided a great cover for his true self, a not so nice guy.
Of course, "nice" never was an adjective associated with Lance, or, for that matter, "loyal", "trustworthy" or "honest". The only reason he was likeable was because he won. The only reason he was adulated was because his story provided hope to cancer patients and made a real contribution to cancer research through his foundation.
But was the whole cancer philanthropy thing just a way to create likeability? To burnish his image? To make himself more of an icon for attracting money from sponsors? Because nothing in his personality suggests that he did it for altruistic reasons. Was the whole thing a cynical marketing campaign for a flawed man in desperate need of a slick diversion to hide his true self from everyone, including himself?
Which brings me back to the squatter living in Lance's brain. That guy hasn't budged one inch.
All you have to do is look at Lance's Oprah confessional. Even though he undoubtedly spent hours being coached by professional image makers on how to phrase every answer relating to his cheating, Lance still couldn't resist trying to excuse himself by saying that he was just trying to play on an even field.
Uh huh. That's about as persuasive as a ten year old telling his mother, "I cheated on the exam because everyone else did," or a looter whining to a police officer "but the store's windows were already broken and everyone else was stealing stuff".
That excuse hasn't cut it since the beginning of time, and adding zeroes to the amount of money at stake doesn't make it any less juvenile or more credible.
Bottom line? If you're in a profession where you have to cheat to win, you have two choices: blow the whistle and be part of the change or face the truth that life isn't fair and you need to find a different way to make a living. That's the tough attitude. That's the hard thing to do. That's what Lance is supposed to be good at.
Lance failed the fundamental concept of living in this world with other human beings - do the right thing. Without the shield provided by the Tour de France wins and the Livestrong Foundation, now everyone has met Lance's true self up close and in person. And contrary to what Lance tried to convey in his mea culpa interview, that self hasn't changed one iota.