The major sports story this past week wasn’t what was accomplished on the field of play but what went on behind the scenes in the life of the man who was until recently renowned as the greatest competitive cyclist of all time—Lance Armstrong.
In his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance finally admitted what many have suspected and some have know for the last 14 years—that the 7-time Tour de France champion used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping throughout his cycling career to gain an edge over his opponents.
As he described it, his “ruthless desire to win at all costs” drove him to brazenly lie about his use of banned substances for over a decade. His deep fear of losing propelled him to do whatever he thought it would take to win.
Losing was never an option for Lance. And that gets dangerous, not only for him, but for all of us who have drank from the winning-is-the-only-thing well.
When I watched Lance’s interview, what flashed through my mind was the scene from Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney film about the Jamaican bobsled team at the Olympics. Irv, played by John Candy, was a former U.S. Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled event. He’d been stripped of his two gold metals and banned from competing in the sport ever again for cheating in his last competition by placing weights in the front of the sled.
Derice Bannock, the driver of the Jamaician team that Irv was coaching, asked him why he cheated and this was Irv’s response: “It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?”
Derice: “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.”
Irv: “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it”
When winning is everything, you’ll stop at nothing.
If we lose ourselves in winning at any price, we truly lose ourselves. We become less than who we were made to be. We fail to recognize that we are more than our accomplishments, more than our net worth, more than where we live or what we drive or what we wear.
Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey, “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. . . . Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. . . . Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Jan. 4).
I think Henri had it right. Hopefully, Lance is on his way to learning that too.
But what about you and me? How aware are you that you’re sacrificing your integrity at the alter of your drive for success? Whether it’s in your profession performance or keeping up a well-manicured image in relationships, it’s time to admit that all of us struggle.
I know I do.
Drivenness to succeed in ministry is still drivenness. It’s all about me. The apostle Paul reminds us to “make it our goal to please Him [Jesus]” (2 Cor. 5:9). When we focus on Him, it’s not about winning but about fruitfulness through faithfulness.
Lance reminded me in his interview that winning at all costs simply costs too much. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and lose our life for His sake (Mark 8:35) is the way to discover a richness and fulfillment in life that surpasses any other finish line we may attempt to cross. And that’s the real victory.