Lance Armstrong is one of the most remarkable people of our generation. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25 and given only a 40 percent chance of survival, he went on to win seven Tour de France titles. But then came years of doping accusations. Last week he decided to stop fighting these allegations; in response, on Friday the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Armstrong from professional cycling for life and vacated his Tour de France titles.
The cyclist says that his most important race goes on: promoting cancer awareness and research. The cancer survivor has raised nearly $500 million since the Lance Armstrong Foundation started in 1997. As the father of a cancer patient, I sincerely hope he continues to raise money and awareness about this horrific disease. At the same time, it’s hard not to be shocked at the way his amazing cycling career has ended.
Another Armstrong made the weekend news as well: Neil Armstrong died Saturday at the age of 82. When he set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he made the statement heard around the world: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Apollo 11 moon mission was his last space flight. He left NASA a year later to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
Armstrong refused all offers to use his fame for personal advancement. Life magazine described his legacy well: he “was one of those rare, genuine heroes whose legend grew larger with passing years not because he nurtured the myths that attached to him as the first human to walk on the moon, but because he quietly, resolutely refused to play the role of the publicly lauded Great American.” His humility was both genuine and remarkable.
One Armstrong finished well; the other may yet forge a great legacy but today lives in the shadow of scandal. Their stories prove the truth of the old adage: it’s not where you begin the race that matters, but where you end. The same is true for us. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright; Moses killed a man and fled as a felon; David was a murdering adulterer; Peter three times denied knowing his Lord; Paul persecuted Christians to the death. But try writing the story of human history and redemption without them.
Their common secret: they learned to define success by faithfulness. Our culture defines it by fame and fortune, popularity and possessions, but God knows better. If we live every moment of this day in God’s will for his glory, when our days are done we will say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Whose race are you running today?