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Note to Lance: Winning isn't everything

Lance ArmstrongBicycle RacingFitnessJustice SystemOprah Winfrey

Lance Armstrong has been rightly condemned for cheating. It takes skill, raw talent and extreme drive just to complete the Tour de France. However, to use unlawful measures to win it takes a complete unraveling of one's moral compass and a breakdown in ethical boundaries. This is true even if Mr. Armstrong has brought great inspiration to cancer survivors.

As an attorney, one of the things that offends me the most is Mr. Armstrong's apparent misuse of the legal system. He abused it to suppress the truth by filing lawsuits against his accusers, lying under oath and, in general, attempting to subvert any investigations by reportedly trying to intimidate witnesses. Thus, the coverup only exaggerated the crime and showed the extent to which he lost his sense of right and wrong.

Even if there are no criminal cases to be brought, Mr. Armstrong faces several civil suits. One is a whistleblower action filed by fellow cyclist Floyd Landis to recover the investigative costs incurred by the Justice Department. This one could potentially result in triple damages. Another pending claim is by an insurance company Mr. Armstrong sued and that ultimately paid him a bonus for winning the Tour. There may also be other cases coming, including by those companies that paid for endorsements. Of course, fraud will be an important element in all these cases.

Whether Mr. Armstrong harmed himself by his recent admissions on Oprah Winfrey's show can be debated. Perhaps, he was trying to get ahead of any civil cases and settle rather than fight them. Ultimately, he faced the specter of continuing more lies under oath in depositions or court. Some have opined that he relented because he wants to compete in triathlon, a sport from which he is now banned.

As a triathlete who has competed in about 100 events, including many in Maryland, I also have another perspective. To me, what counts is the discipline of training. The reward is the personal empowerment of overcoming the adversity of the distances and the conditions. In other words, winning is not the only goal.

While I have received an award for first place in my age group for a Half Ironman distance on the Eastern Shore, (1.2-mile swim, 65-mile bike and 10-mile run), that is not the norm for me. Yet, I continue to compete because, while the outcome is not always clear, the sense of accomplishment always is.

There is a lesson here for all of us, including Mr. Armstrong. Of course, it is human nature to be more interested in the outcome of a sporting event when the potential is there to win. When I go to see a professional sporting event, including the Ravens or Orioles, naturally I want them to do well. If it is a close game, I am inspired by their performance and admire their level of skill and effort under pressure. I would feel this way even if they ended up losing, because I can respect what has been achieved on the field.

As someone who has worked hard in Annapolis on public health issues and to promote physical fitness, I want all of us to be inspired to stay healthy and active in whatever ways we chose. We have the right to be able to trust the integrity of all professional sports and not be betrayed by those we admire, whether in baseball or cycling. In this sense, Lance Armstrong has failed us profoundly. However, in our own ways, we can both receive and give inspiration to each other, and ourselves, for the level of our own efforts. We do not need Mr. Armstrong for that.

Charles Chester of Bethesda is an attorney and triathlete who has provided legal services to USA Triathlon and has served as vice chair of the State Advisory Council on Physical Fitness. His email is chesteresq@aol.com.

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