Are we looking for heroes in the wrong places?
Lance Armstrong is tended to after crashing during the fifth stage of the Tour of California cycling race in the outskirts of Visalia, Calif., Thursday, May 20, 2010. (AP / Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Published Friday, January 18, 2013 10:59PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 19, 2013 10:18PM EST
When a doping athlete says “everyone was doing it,” it is just another lie. It’s a dishonest attempt to make “cheating” sound like another word for “fairness.”
Such claims of a “level playing field” assume the only people who could be hurt by cheating are fellow competitors.
But what about the other victims? What about the little girl, maybe four or five years old at the time, photographed at the side of the track with a sign saying “Vive le Lance?” What about her? Surely every trusting heart is hardened a little when it’s betrayed.
When someone is admired in sports and then disgraced in the news, it is a slap to everyone who picked the wrong hero.
But maybe we’re looking for heroes in the wrong places.
Honest hard work in pursuit of success is a noble thing. So it’s natural to admire the high-flyers. But high-flyers have been giving in to temptation since Icarus. And achievement isn’t the same as heroism. Heroes are measured, not by the sacrifices they make for their own benefit, but by the sacrifices they make for someone else’s. So you may not find them celebrating their glories.
There’s not much to celebrate in the Haitian slum of Cite Soleil. Plainly put, it’s one of the worst places on earth. And in January of 2010, most aid workers were refusing to go there because they considered it too dangerous. But that’s where I met Winnipeg-born doctor Larry Kaplan.
At an age when many would have retired, he had come to Haiti as a volunteer after the country’s catastrophic earthquake. His only accommodation was a sleeping bag, on bare concrete and in the open air. And all day, every day, he provided medical treatment to the most neglected of Haiti’s victims. Many days after the disaster, he was still the first doctor his patients had seen.
But the same underlying qualities of courage and generosity can be found every day, close to home.
A lot of amputees would flinch at the stares of children, but not Montreal’s Vanessa Knight. She welcomes their curiosity, even passing around her prosthetic arm. Vanessa volunteers her time speaking to school groups and demystifying disabilities.
“I do kayaking and I do ski racing,” she tells them.
Reminding kids of everyone’s potential is no small thing at all. And more meaningful than anything they could learn from a bullying, self-aggrandizing, cheater like Lance Armstrong.
Maybe then, if heroism seems hard to find, it’s because we’ve been looking for it in the stars.
We can see it all around us when we come down to earth.