IT was one of those team-building exercises at work where you have to say who your heroes are.
The question was simple; name one person who has inspired you?
My answer was easy; ‘cyclist Lance Armstrong’.
For the next 20 minutes or so I had to explain to my colleagues, and session facilitator, who Lance Armstrong was and why I’d chosen him and not plumped for the usual answer of parents, brother, spouse or centre-forward for your favourite football team.
It was fairly straightforward for me. I’d just read his first book ‘It’s not about the bike’, and I’d been struck by a particular phrase he used.
His story of how he battled cancer and then went on to finish first in seven Tour de France’s is widely known now, given all the recent publicity about his performance enhancing drug taking.
Back then, though, around about 2003, Armstrong was mainly still a hero to cycling fans and general sports followers who like a good story.
The phrase that he kept saying during his fight with cancer was ‘pain is temporary, quitting is forever’.
It kind of stuck with me and I thought what a brilliant statement by which to live your life.
I followed Armstrong’s career closely after reading his book. I used his words as strength when my mum was diagnosed and subsequently passed away from cancer.
And I’ve watched in horror as all his achievements have been stripped away because of his lies and deceit about his drug taking.
But this isn’t just about Armstrong. It’s about sporting heroes in general.
There’s a saying about never meeting your heroes because they always end up disappointing you.
Is that more true for sporting ones than for, say, political leaders, actors, explorers or pop stars?
What is a hero anyway? Thousands of people worship the ground footballers walk on every weekend when they’re playing for the team they support.
However, should a transfer take place and the same player move to a rival club then he may as well not exist anymore.
Should the hero be morally incorruptible or just really good at what they do?
Is John Terry more of a hero than Jessica Ennis? For some, including myself, it almost turns the stomach to put the two of them in the same sentence.
But to a young man from the same estate as Terry the Chelsea captain is more identifiable than a female heptathlete from Sheffield.
Who chooses who our heroes are? It has to be a personal decision. Despite all that has been said about him I can’t dismiss the comfort I got from reading Armstrong’s book when I needed it most.
Should we even accept sports stars as heroes when millions of ‘ordinary’ people do more worthwhile things every minute of every day?
I think it comes down to what we want out of sport. Some want a few pints in the pub, 90 minutes cheering on their favourite team and then six days of hanging around for next Saturday.
Others want to appreciate everything from golf to boxing; enjoying the art as well as the confrontation.
Your next hero could be the footballer you’d never heard of until this season or the tennis player who beats the odds to win Wimbledon.
Just remember that there is good in everyone and someone will choose a hero that you just can’t stand.
Even Armstrong can still inspire, in some ways.