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Mares: Two Armstrongs

09/17/12 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(Host) The recent death of Neil Armstrong and the potential professional death of Lance Armstrong for alleged drug use has gotten writer, educator and commentator Bill Mares thinking about hero worship in America.

(Mares) First Neil Armstrong rocketed to the moon in Apollo 11 43 years ago. Then Lance Armstrong figuratively rocketed up the steep slopes of the Mt. Vertoux on the Tour de France. Both took us heavenward, leading us to believe the impossible was possible.
 
Technology and muscle were woven together in the fibre of both men's accomplishments. Neil's moon walk was the climax of countless technological achievements, while Lance's rides were testaments to will and strength. Yet Neil's physical skills as a pilot contributed to his success and Lance's victory was also due in part to technological improvements in bicycle design, training and nutrition, and medicine.
 
In another parallel, both the moon landing and winning the Tour were major team efforts. No one reaches those finish lines alone. Lance needed his fellow team riders. Neil was supported by the vast NASA network.
 
Then, too, there are their respective iconic images: the tanned, smiling Lance riding down the Champs Elysees, wrapped in an American flag - and the grainy photo of Neil on the surface of the moon, encased in white space suit, his face invisible behind a plastic dome, a tiny stiff flag at his feet - somehow befitting his modesty.
 
Both men had courage in abundance. Neil flew three score combat missions during the Korean War, and he was a test pilot of innovative and dangerous planes. Lance beat cancer with an indomitable will, raised millions for his cancer charity, and always seemed to enjoy the limelight.
For almost a decade, Lance was the face of his sport - despite critics who claimed he used performance-enhancing drugs. In 1969, Neil was chosen to be the Apollo 11 commander and the first to step on the moon, because, his bosses said, he did not have a big ego. Neil retreated from the Lindbergh-like fame, first to be a mid-level administrator at NASA and then to teach. Even there, he chose the modest University of Cincinnati because they would accept him without a Ph.D. He generally avoided publicity and even refused to sign autographs once he found out that people were selling them for large amounts of money.
 
Still, some say get the victories anyway you can, especially if everyone else cuts corners. Celebrity is all, they argue.
 
Lance's saga reminds me of the Greek myth of Icarus, whose father made him wings of feathers and beeswax but warned him not to fly too high and too close to the sun. Giddy with ambition and ego, Icarus soared ever higher into the heavens until the sun warmed the wax, loosened the feathers and dropped Icarus into the sea below.
 
Perhaps the two are the bookends of our dreams. We know the jig-saw of personality is never a perfect fit. Too bad we can't hold out for a composite.
 
But if I had to choose, I'd take Neil, the steady reliable foxhole buddy, who always shared the credit with others.


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