Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What it means to me

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about just what it means to cheat. I talk about this because as a dialysis patient with a legitimate medical necessity for the constant use of EPO, I find, that the one sided    debate on the subject of this and other "performance enhancing drugs" to be illogical, ignorant, and in the larger historical picture, unsustainable.

Lance Armstrong has been unfairly condemned. History will, in my opinion, show, his and other athletes of our period to be mischaracterized as "cheaters".  What is being achieved by the increase in ones oxygen carrying capacity through the use of hormone, EPO produced naturally in the body by the normally functioning kidneys, and allows for increased vo2 and cardiovascular performance? In, reality, nothing. One who has never run a marathon, or cycled a tour, could possibly achieve anything close to the achievements of one who trains hard, and has the skills to perform these feats of human physical prowess. Just as the act of increase in muscle mass through various steroid or other methods cannot make an average joe into a football or baseball star, real talent, real hard work, and real inherent skills still play the most important role in making greatness happen. One must believe that they are great in order to be great. No amount of special PEDs will or can make that happen.

Many would say that I have in fact missed the whole point of the argument, and the outrage regarding the issue of enhancements in the pursuit of performance. On the contrary, I believe that the current state of affairs regarding this will, over time be shown to be much ado about nothing on the one hand, and an ignorant witch hunt on the other. The real question is not one of unfair advantage, but one of acceptance of human ingenuity towards his or her self expression and improvement. Isn't that in fact the  entire thrust of humankind? To be smarter, to be healthier, to express our limitless potential as we expand our own boundaries and definitions of what we believe we are capable of? In the natural pursuit of finding the limits of our, creation, will we, and certainly have made a multitude of mistakes, but that is our special gift we are given as human. Not just that we are constantly discovering and creating new ways to express and perform ( many species do this), but rather our ability to learn, to self adjust, and reflect on ourselves.

We have always allowed certain "performance enhancers" in sport and in normal life. Just as we have made arbitrary decisions as to what we deem allowable drugs or what not in society. A cup of espresso before a race, a regimen of vitamins, minerals, and supplements ( legal and over the counter at any drugstore) during training, steroids given by a doctor to deal with inflammation, and the many many new cutting edge procedures and substances be discovered and utilized to increase human performance. Is cheating the real issue?

Lance Armstrong received, I am sure, many of the things legitimately, such as blood transfusions, and EPO as a normal parts of the cancer treatments and remedies to those affects. He did, and I do acknowledge that from a strictly medical standpoint he no longer required these treatments once he had overcome his ordeal. However, simply the use of these should in no way diminish the fact he first believed, then worked harder than any other human on the planet to achieve the acts documented in the French Tour de France.   Every athlete at that level is already world class, and on an otherwise equal footing. But equal footing does not mean that all the participants finish the race at the same time, otherwise it wouldn't matter at all. In winning is in itself the inherent fact that one athlete has an advantage over their competitors. What that advantage is can be, and should be, defined more broadly and with more reflection than it is now. A strong cup of coffee with caffeine can give the body an advantage over an equal physical specimen. We have just drawn the line at this time what is unfair or not. But don't do not fault the greatness of the accomplishment. Is it not great that he, and others have shown what can be possible? The inevitable future involves more "enhancements" for the human to perform, and to live healthy longer lives. We just have to catch up with our ideals of what we accept as "real" human achievements will be defined as.

I am, as many of you know, from reading my blog, or knowing me personally, that I am a runner, while also being on kidney dialysis the past eight and half years. Prior to that I received two kidney transplants early in my life. I am not ashamed to say that it is clear to me from the facts that I am easily one of the best athletes on this planet. It is very difficult to admit this, for I feel my ego rearing its terrible head. But it is important to share with others, not only in my physical condition, but others who suffer from one malady or another, physical or emotional, of what is possible. It does not come from simply having my dialysis treatments, my EPO, and the support, family and medical staffs that I am blessed to have around me. It really started when I believed in my unlimited potential to express what I knew I was capable of. Even in the face of what had never been achieved. Eight and half years, two marathons, roughly 10,000 miles of running later. I have to know that it has not been for naught.