This week Lance Armstrong will go on television and finally admit that he used performance enhancing drugs in order to win cycling races. This is nothing new to most of us who already have known for a long time that he doped and most other professional cyclists did as well. He just did it better. In Tyler Hamilton’s recent book he basically explains that to make it in the sport it was totally necessary, and I understand that. If you’re in a situation where it is either cheat and excel or stay clean and not place, it is human nature to want the reward. I was in that position myself years ago and decided to go one way, but often wonder about what might have happened if I went to the other. If you think that your professional athletes in whatever major sport you follow haven’t done something technically illegal at some point, I’d wager a lot of money that you’re wrong.
In the Fitness industry, competitors in bodybuilding and fitness competitions take drugs as well. In fact, it is pretty rare to find any competitors at the top end of the sport that haven’t done it at least one cycle or take things regularly when they are finishing show prep, even though many of them will protest to the end that they are “natural” just like Lance did for years. I have one colleague who at least comes out and admits about his drug taking and makes sure that he only competes in non-natural shows, and there is even a whole major federation out there that basically says everyone is doing it so they just turn a blind eye and don’t bother testing. There are ways around any drug tests and it is remarkably easy to do so. As a new competitor the temptation to just do it is huge, especially when coaches and trainers encourage it and will readily find it for you because it means you will get better results (which for some reason is their doing, not the drugs).
Many people don’t think about the long term effects of these things. The body is only meant to be pushed so far, and when unnatural means are used to push it further then it usually fights back. It isn’t unusual to see former athletes a shell of themselves a decade after they retired with a host of major health issues. So athletes need to ask themselves if it is worth possibly dying ten to twenty years earlier because they decided to excel for a couple of years. If there is huge money involved, like in Lance Armstrong’s case then most people would say no question. But for that bodybuilder or fitness model, the only thing they are going to get is a trophy, maybe some nice pictures and a line on a resume. It almost doesn’t seem worth it, but for many people it definitely is, even if they only win one show or achieve a “pro card”.
So then we come down to the moral question. Is it really cheating if everyone is doing it, it seems to be tolerated by the vast majority of an industry and they are only going to condemn you if you get caught? The temptation is experienced by athletes in all sports, and starts as early as high school for many teenagers. Many out there would say cheating is cheating – it doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing it or it is almost required as it is with most professional sports to achieve that level. But for anyone who has reached for that brass ring and just barely missed, having the chance to have that big moment of victory is usually too much to bear and they will do anything to get it again. Our society rewards the winners, not the participants. So it is perfectly natural for us to say “everyone is doing it, so why don’t I?” It is human nature to want the satisfaction without considering the long term consequences. We see this in marriages with affairs, workplaces with stealing and things like starvation diets and medical weight loss programs.
I have no problem with Lance taking drugs. He did what was necessary and I’m not condemning that. If he had been the only one doing it then the story might change, but he basically had a level playing field and beat everyone anyway. He trained very hard and busted his butt, just like many people do in my industry. However, the penalty is now catching up with him. What people have to ask themselves now is whether it is even worth it to level the playing field for what you want to do? Be aware that if you are going to take the risk, you have to expect that at some point you’re going to have to deal with the consequences, which often come well after the reward has been and gone. There are examples of that all around me and to this day I look back and know that I made the right choice – for myself. I hope that you decide to as well and live well with whatever choice that you make.