Yes, I doped, I lied, I tried to destroy anyone who challenged those lies, but it’s not my fault. It’s Rabbi Hillel’s.
Wait, this isn’t some bullshit Oprah excuse. It’s the truth.
In the early days of my cycling career, when things weren’t going so great, I was an eager seeker of guidance on how to live better. What is success? What is failure? What is the true meaning of competition? I looked everywhere for the answers, in all the world’s religious traditions: the Bible, of course, but also the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, The Heart Sutra, until finally I came to that compendium of moral and spiritual thinking, the Talmud. It was there that I stumbled across the words of Rabbi Hillel, greatest of all Torah sages:
If not me, who? And if not now, when?
I looked around my little room in Austin, and I just knew that Rabbi Hillel was right. Why shouldn’t I win everything, get rich, live in a mansion, and leave nothing for anyone else? And why shouldn’t I do it right now?
If not me, who? And if not now, when? Hillel’s words were like a key opening the door to everything good in life: the winning, the champagne, the steroids, the human growth hormone, the endorsements, the money, the blood transfusions, the fame. Through it all, I kept my mind focused like a laser beam on those two ethical imperatives, me and now, just like the Rabbi told me to, and I didn’t let anyone mess with my head—especially the Israeli rider who tried to tell me on the breakaway that Hillel meant something bleeding-heart about the call to social justice.
Bullshit trash talk. I knew my Hillel. Do not do to someone else what is hateful to you, the great sage said. That’s why I got all my teammates doping, too: because nothing is more hateful to me than me losing. And that’s why I never called that crazy bitch fat, either, even though she is. Living according to the wisdom of the Talmud was more important to me than getting back at some crazy fat bitch, even one who had it coming.
Of course I see now that I was wrong—or not exactly wrong wrong, because it wasn’t ever me, really, it was Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Hillel was incredibly wrong. I was something more like an unsuspecting victim of his wrongness, a dupe.
But that’s all in the past. I don’t believe in self-pity. I believe in moving forward, if only the governing bodies and the corporate sponsors will let me. I think they will all be happy to hear that in my continuing search for wisdom, I’m looking to the New Testament these days: Blessed is the sinner, for he will be forgiven.
Robert Anthony Siegel is the author of two novels, All the Money in the World and All Will Be Revealed. His web site is www.robertanthonysiegel.com.