Heroes among us

Lance Armstrong was recently interviewed by the BBC and though acknowledging some really bad behavior, is still somewhat defiant about his culpability in the doping scandal that resulted in being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Perhaps if he had been more focused on being a true hero instead of a cycling superstar, he’d be a much happier man right now.

This post originally ran on May 26, 2012.

On Memorial Day we rightly honor the men and women who have bravely sacrificed to secure and protect our freedom. They are true heroes.married

There are others in our culture considered heroes who really don’t deserve the title. And there are average men and women whose quiet heroics go unrecognized.

This is about living a life of courage, commitment, and integrity as a spouse or parent. We can be heroes too. I penned it over eight years ago – not sure what’s happened to Lance since then.


The magazine photo of the smiling couple caught my eye. That’s Lance Armstrong, I realized. With Sandra Bullock? Yeah, they look a little cozy, but Lance was probably just posing with her at a celebrity function, or something like that. I mean, he’s married with three little kids. He’s a hero-type. Five-time Tour de France winner. Cancer survivor. Where’s his wife?

Kirstin Armstrong was definitely out of the picture. The magazine said Lance was divorcing his wife and that he and Sandra Bullock were an item.  At that moment, in my mind Lance Armstrong, Hero was demoted to Lance Armstrong, run-of-the-mill, spineless, selfish human.

This isn’t a commentary on the personal failings of Lance Armstrong or heroes in general. It’s an observation that real heroes aren’t the ones who achieve great things, but the ones who have noble purposes. A real hero is someone who stays true to a commitment no matter what, for the sake of the one or ones he is committed to; who puts the needs of others before his own. Soldiers and firefighters are definitely hero-types.  But heroes, as well, are the men and women who sacrificially love their spouses and honor their marriage vows when the going gets tough and the relationship isn’t all they hoped it would be.

Winning the Tour de France five times is an incredible feat. The training has to be grueling, not to mention the race itself.  Persevering through difficulty and pain is admirable indeed. But Lance Armstrong’s yearly quest for the yellow jersey was basically for his own benefit. Yes, it was also his means of providing for his family, but his family needs more than just the money he can earn, and the fame and self-satisfaction he achieved were of little benefit to them.

If Lance was a real hero, he would have been willing to sacrifice fame and fortune, if necessary, in order to meet the needs of his children and his wife. Certainly, both parties have a responsibility to place the interests of their union above their individual desires. But published reports about the Armstrongs indicate that his growing fame and the requirements of his career which kept him apart from his family were instrumental factors in their breakup. Humanly speaking, it would be almost unthinkable to walk away from the opportunities offered him. But if Lance Armstrong was more than just an ordinary human being, he would determine to do whatever it took to keep his marriage together, especially for the sake of his young children, who will certainly suffer as a result of their parents’ divorce. He would make the same commitment to the well-being of his family, a noble purpose, that he has made to being a champion bicycle racer.

There are heroes like that. There’s a 40-year-old pencil jockey somewhere with a couple of kids and an unfulfilling job, where a secretary touches his arm or back whenever she talks to him and invites him to have a drink with her after work. The temptation is hard to resist sometimes because his wife isn’t very appreciative or supportive, but he stays true to her in body and mind, because he vowed that he would and because his children benefit greatly from living in a stable family environment. And he knows he’s not perfect either. That’s a hero.

There’s a young wife and mother. Her husband drinks too much and cares too little for meeting her emotional needs. He’s often surly and demanding and shows little potential for change. But she promised to love him for better or worse, and she’s willing to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of her children, and even her undeserving husband. So she treats him with respect and does not withhold physical intimacy, and tries very hard to be pleasant and uncomplaining. She is a heroine.

And there’s an old man somewhere who daily bathes and dresses his ailing wife, cooks for her, cleans up after her, helps her in the bathroom, and tells her how much he loves her. And she doesn’t even know who he is. Hero. Big time.

The man or woman sitting next to you in church this Sunday might be one of these heroes; someone who is persevering by faith in a marriage that is difficult, for one reason or another. The world is telling them to pursue their own happiness, but they hear the voice of God saying, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Is their commitment to God and their family through trying circumstances less laudable than winning the Tour de France five times? Ten times? No, it is more. Let us endeavor to recognize and honor these heroes of the faith among us by following their example of self-sacrifice and perseverance in our own marriages. And we can be heroes, as well.