Yesterday during my thrice-daily Blue State visit, I instantaneously recognized the yellow embroidery on the barista’s cap: the symbol for Livestrong, Lance Armstrong’s cancer foundation. For a moment, I thought I had made a new friend in this fellow Lance defender.
I have worshipped America’s legendary cyclist since I was eight years old, when he won his fourth Tour de France gold. I read both of Lance’s autobiographies, memorizing the statistics of his medical struggles and cycling career (he still holds the American record for ascending the famously steep l’Alpe d’Huez — 37 minutes and 36 seconds). I was probably the first kid in my elementary school to sport a yellow Livestrong wristband and definitely the first to wear an entire dozen-pack on one wrist.
I even got Oakley sunglasses because Lance wore Oakleys. Except I wanted to wear mine all the time, so my optometrist indulged me by putting in prescription lenses. I insisted these still be slightly tinted blue, because the height of my Lance obsession coincided with the height of my Bono worship. Bono always wore blue sunglasses indoors.
My dad — a cyclist himself — promised that I could get a proper road bike once I had ridden 300 miles on my awkward hybrid. When I hit the 300 mark (the unit of which mercifully had been reduced from miles to kilometers), I proudly selected a little blue road bike, made by Trek, of course, because Lance rode Trek. I named the treasured aluminum cycle — you guessed it — Lance.
When headlines announced that the Texan was retiring from professional cycling after his 7th straight Tour de France victory, I cried in my bedroom. When he came out of retirement to ride the 2009 Tour, I camped out on the Champs-Elysées eight hours before my resurrected hero would appear there, zooming by for all of 2.8 seconds.
When it occurred to me that the hipster barista was likely wearing Lance’s sacred symbol ironically in light of the recent doping controversy, I forwent my 4 p.m. dark roast red eye — a big deal for me — and booked it out onto Wall.
When one is growing up as an English major, one has lots of disillusionment from which to suffer. It’ll break my heart, but eventually I will reconcile myself to the idea that the Northern Lights are scientifically explicable and are not actually proof that the alternate worlds of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” exist. After many years, I’ve even been able to accept that Zac Efron is not and will never be my boyfriend (and not only because he’s now four inches shorter than I). What I refuse to accept, however, is that use of relatively minor performance-enhancing methods discredits every achievement in a man’s personal life and professional career. Regardless of what horrifyingly intrusive personal information acrid media coverage reveals, the man overcame a 5 percent chance of survival to go on to win seven consecutive titles in the world’s most prestigious cycling competition. He is not a fraud and certainly does not deserve to have his mistakes strewn across the Internet to indulge the world’s schadenfreude.
Granted, I wasn’t raised by a teenage single mother, and (contrary to popular belief at the stage of life in which I wore blue-tinted Oakleys) I never had any testicles I could lose to cancer. I was a well-loved, well-off Brooklyn kid. Nevertheless, Lance taught me to fight. So maybe he fought dirty. It wasn’t steroids — it was his own blood that he was injecting into his body. It doesn’t delegitimize every success he experienced as a professional athlete, a significant contributor to cancer research, an inspiration for cancer victims and my childhood hero.
Ironic barista dude: Apply your cynical cultural commentary elsewhere. I still own my imitation U.S. Postal Service jersey.