Decker: Too Good to Be True
By Luke Decker, Contributing Columnist
Published on Thursday, February 21, 2013
Born without fibulas, his legs were amputated below the knee when he was only 11 months old. By age 17, he had the world record in the T44 (reduced function in lower limbs) 100-meter dash. In his first able-bodied race, he finished sixth. In 2008, he overcame the International Association of Athletics Federations’ decision to ban him from able-bodied competition and qualified for the London Olympics in 2012. He advanced to the semifinal of the 400-meter race and competed for South Africa on the 4x400-meter relay in the final as the first amputee runner in the Olympics. From experiencing a Nelson Mandela-like appeal to international disgrace, Oscar Pistorius awaits his fate in a South African courtroom. Whether he is proven guilty for the murder of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius’s iconic stardom is over. With steroids uncovered throughout his home, Pistorius has fallen from grace.
I feel like a broken record. Cancer survivor wins seven consecutive Tour de France races, then loses every title and is banned for life for doping. Given that Pistorius is accused of murdering another human being, his case is arguably much more severe than Lance Armstrong’s. Nonetheless, they are very similar in many ways. Millions of people looked up to Pistorius and Armstrong as world-class heroes. They both overcame all odds to make it to the very top among the able-bodied. Perhaps it was all too good to be true.
Selfishness is a running theme between Pistorius, Armstrong and other professional athletes who have cheated their way to success: they were willing to jeopardize their own integrity for the fame, fortune and everything else that comes with international stardom. But should we blame it all on them? Can we blame it all on them? Surely the pursuit of glory was a big part of their moral failures, but perhaps it was not purely selfishness, but rather being stuck in a vicious system of expectation, that led to their downfalls.
Is surviving cancer or winning a number of Paralympic gold medals, or even just being able to walk as a double amputee, not enough? It has almost become a game of chicken or egg. Who is to blame: athletes like Pistorius and Armstrong, for dulling their feats with their own beyond-all-odds accomplishments, or the system of beyond-all-odds expectation, which has only encouraged this vicious pursuit of glory? It does not really matter now. What can be learned from this is the following: human beings are human beings. Do not waste your whole life trying to be like someone else or follow the lead they have taken. They are bound to let you down. Set your own expectations.
This vicious circle of expectation is not limited to the sphere of professional athletics. It is ever-present here at Dartmouth. It is not worth losing yourself or the joy that comes with celebrating small successes along the way to viciously pursue beyond-all-odds expectations. I am not advocating for mediocrity or telling you to drop all of your hopes and dreams. But, while it is okay to set high expectations for yourself, do not let those goals diminish your everyday success. If you are not awarded the most prestigious scholarship or you cannot maintain a 4.0 GPA every term, should you just give up? No.
I hate to sound cliche, but Emerson was right when he said, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Pistorius and Armstrong got so caught up in the endless pursuit of high expectation that they forgot about the life they first won back — being able to walk and surviving cancer. Perhaps if Armstrong finished ninth or 10th at each of the Tour de France titles he won and then was later stripped of his results for doping, he would be a lot happier now. Armstrong threw everything he had into one basket: winning the Tour de France, year after year after year. He lost everything because of it. Expectation is what you make of it. In most cases, the “too good to be true” is true and our outlooks have blinded us from realizing it.