Tuesday, October 19, 2021

To be… or not to be (a hero)



By Matt Walthour

I am sure we all have heroes in our lives, but what really is a hero? As Webster defines it: A man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, one who shows great courage. You think of all the people you have looked up to as heroes in your life, do they fit the definition?

I remember reading American astronaut Michael Collins’ book, “Carrying the Fire, an Astronaut’s Journey.” In it, he mentions he doesn’t understand why people look up to Hollywood stars and famous people as heroes. He goes on to say that he is often mentioned as a hero, but he only thinks of himself as someone who just went out and did his job, and that job was to go to the Moon. That surprised me, especially since I was in the aviation field and graduated from an aviation university. To me, he is a hero. In essence, he and two other men jumped into a tube and went to the moon without knowing what would happen to them; that is courage; that is an achievement. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have come to know Mr. Collins and to have talked with him I see why he felt that way, he is a humble man that is of noble quality. I sure hope he doesn’t mind me calling him a hero; if so, I will just say I admire him.

Where am I getting with all this hero talk? Well, I guess I finally have to address the Lance Armstrong issue. To me, Lance was never a hero. Did I admire him? Somewhat. I admired what he did more for people with cancer than what he did on the bicycle. Do I condone the way he treated people in his path? Of course not. But having lost my Dad, my hero, and my Grandmother to cancer, this is where Lance has gained some of my admiration. That will end my discussion on Lance Armstrong. But not about another athlete, also a cyclist – one with many accomplishments on and off the bicycle – my cousin Bobby Walthour IV.

I admire my

Walthour Sr. behind his pace-maker, Hoffman, Circa 1905.

Walthour Sr. behind his pace-maker, Hoffman, Circa 1905.

cousin for many reasons, but one is how he conducts himself in the sport of cycling. He was, and still is, a clean athlete. Never did he, or would he, touch anything that would possibly hinder himself, his family and our family name. I have been to quite a few races with my cousin over the years and he was always very, let’s say “scared,” for the lack of a better term, to eat or drink anything before competition unless he was absolutely sure it contained nothing that would be on the “banned” substance list – at times, even his beloved Starbucks. Like Lance, my cousin has also been tested numerous times, both before and after elite competitions and they always come back clean.

The following is an excerpt from an article my cousin was asked to write in the wake of the Lance Armstrong issue, titled, “No Right Answer.”

“My name is Bobby Walthour. Actually, it is Bobby Walthour IV. I am the heir to the Walthour legacy, dating back to my great grandfather (Bobby Sr.) my grandfather (Bobby Jr.), and cousin (Jimmy) – all members of the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. We hold, undoubtedly, the longest American family tradition in a professional sport.

I have been a professional track cyclist for the past 27 years; am a former member of the United States National Cycling Team; have won many national titles and professional races; and currently hold a Masters National record for my age group. I am proud to say that I have been drug-free for my entire career, and am honored to carry on my family legacy in this manner.

Drugs in cycling was a major topic of conversation last week, with Lance Armstrong acting as the unofficial emcee. I was asked how long drugs have been in bicycle racing, and my answer may surprise you. Since day one. We are talking back to the 1800’s here.

I have personally witnessed drug use in the sport of cycling. I have witnessed pills handed out by coaches. I have also witnessed athletes admit to drug use. After some athletes test positive, they receive a slap on the

Walthour Jr. on the beach.

Walthour Jr. on the beach.

wrist and then hop on a plane – to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, for example.

This angered me when I was in my 20’s, and I became very bitter. I thought about my own career. Do I take steroids and become a world and Olympic champion, or do I take a character check and travel a path to less glory and financial reward?

It has always been more important to me to carry my name – my family’s name – with dignity and good ethics, than to risk it all for fleeting popularity and monetary gain. I have never been approached by anyone to take drugs, nor have I sought them out. This was a no-brainer for me, but it was still incredibly difficult over the years to watch others obtain rewards for cheating.

By sheer coincidence, I received an email from the USADA the same week, if not the same day, the whole Armstrong thing broke out. It said I had passed my test. No surprise there. With athletes and scientists staying one step ahead of the testers, I foresee this whole situation going on and on. And on. That is why we as parents, teachers and coaches, need to educate our kids about character and choices. The right choices.

I have made up my own kind of ‘test,’ and I take it often. I call it the Child-Mirror test, and it is both simple and inexpensive. I just look into my eight and twelve year-old daughters’ eyes and then into a mirror. Am I okay with the choices I have made? If the answer is ‘yes,’ I am totally cool with it.

As an athlete, coach and parent, this is a tough call. If ‘everyone is doing it,’ do we only punish the ones who get singled out or caught? Is there a clear right or wrong answer here? I would love to hear from you.”


Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.

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