Amy Donaldson: No shame in admiring Lance Armstrong for the good he did

Published: Sunday, Aug. 26 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

In this July 6, 2010, file photo, Lance Armstrong grimaces prior to the start of the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Wanze, Belgium. Armstrong said on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, that he is finished fighting charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his unprecedented cycling career, a decision that could put his string of seven Tour de France titles in jeopardy.

Christophe Ena, AP

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When Lance Armstrong gave up fighting the doping allegations against him, most of us assumed that was the equivalent of a confession.

For the man we admired, in part, because he never quit, waving the white flag, was for many, evidence that he knew he couldn't win. Even those who saw the pursuit of the case against him, as he put it "an unconstitutional witch hunt," admitted they were disappointed and discouraged by the decision and what it seemed to imply.

I do not intend to use this column space to debate whether Lance is guilty or persecuted. My purpose is simply to point out that for most of us, it doesn't matter as much as we may think it does.

No need to cast stones.

No need to condemn him. No need to label him.

And maybe most importantly, there is no need to taint the work he did away from competitive cycling.

Even if you believe the worst allegations against him, it's OK to still be inspired by his toughness, by his generosity, by his philanthropy. Several of my friends said they feel betrayed by his decision, and one complained that she wished she'd never believed his constant denials.

Trusting others is not a flaw.

I once had a conversation with a friend who'd been betrayed by her husband. She was humiliated and heartbroken. In the wake of her marriage disintegrating around her, she asked me, "How could I be so foolish? I should have seen this coming. I feel so stupid."

I did not see her as someone who was duped or dumb. I saw her as someone who approached marriage as one should — with love and trust. It is not wrong to expect that in return.

"There is no shame in loving someone honestly," I told her. "It is not your fault that he chose to be dishonest. You should not feel stupid because there is no shame in trusting him to keep his commitments; there's no shame in believing he was a man capable of that and much more. Trusting other people and seeing the best in them is something to be proud of, not something of which you should be ashamed."

In the wake of Armstrong's shocking pronouncement that "enough was enough," I felt a little shame for admiring him. After sitting through a seminar in 2010 about how technology was finally advanced enough to detect the many ways in which athletes had found to chemically enhance their performance, I knew that at least some of the allegations that had dogged him much of his career were likely true.

Like most, I desperately wanted the allegations to be false.

As I discussed the surrender, the allegations and the aftermath with friends, many of whom are cyclists, I have decided that for me, it doesn't matter if he cheated. I have always admired his work on behalf of cancer patients far more than his athletic accomplishments.

Unlike some other famous athletes who've been unmasked as cheaters, Armstrong took the fame winning seven Tours de France gave him and used it to raise half a billion dollars for cancer research. He saved lives, eased the stigma of a horrific disease and brought comfort to millions.

More than winning one of the world's toughest bike races after beating cancer, his efforts to set up the LIVESTRONG Foundation and help other like-minded efforts brought hope, inspiration and relief to the sick and suffering.

Two years ago, I spent three days with a group of men who were able to attend a fly-fishing retreat in part thanks to a grant from the LIVESTRONG Foundation. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

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