It was a glorious day in 1993 when Lance Armstrong won America's top professional bicycle race, the annual CoreStates U.S. Pro Cycling Championship in Philadelphia.
My wife and I were there and we were just a few feet from the award ceremonies after the race, when a beaming Armstrong stepped up to the winner's platform. He had reason to beam; his winning prize was $1 million, the first big chunk of more than $100 million he would get in coming years.
We also were there a few years later when George Hincapie, Armstrong's closest racing companion over the years, won the Philadelphia race.
The thrills of those moments, of course, have turned into a nightmare, because the Philadelphia races are only a small part of the personal connections I have to the prolonged and gut-wrenching scandal swirling around Armstrong, Hincapie and others.
Even though we all knew what was coming in Thursday night's opening segment of Oprah Winfrey's two-part interview with Armstrong, it nevertheless came as a fresh torment.
"Yes," Armstrong said to begin the interview, after Winfrey asked if he used banned substances to help win his races.
It was all downhill from there, with discussions of the "culture" of doping that also enveloped Hincapie and Floyd Landis, the Tour de France winner (temporarily) who is from this region and who is a product of the horse-and-buggy Old Order Mennonite culture we so deeply admire.
One of my links to this story was my own appearance on Winfrey's former television show, in Chicago in 2001, when my daughter was a featured guest. Cindy was invited to the show after a producer saw a column I wrote about two perilous trips she made to Afghanistan — when the Taliban were still in power — to film a documentary on the plight of Afghan women.
Even more excruciating is the impact of the Armstrong mess on those of us who cherish the Lehigh Valley's role as a world-renowned mecca of bicycle racing, thanks to the velodrome at Trexlertown.
This is where Marty Nothstein, now the velodrome's director, made his bones in racing before going on to win three world championships and an Olympic Gold Medal — all without cheating by using special blood transfusions, erythropoietin (a blood-boosting hormone commonly known as EPO) or the other performance enhancing glop gobbled up by Armstrong.
It is where bicycle racers from all over the world assemble every summer to compete. It is where hundreds of other cyclists gather to begin organized or individual rides through the superb cycling terrain of western Lehigh County and eastern Berks County.
So Thursday night's TV show was a dagger through many hearts.
I also raced bicycles when I was a bit younger. I was not especially good at it but I did manage to win a few amateur races, including the Vineland, N.J., Criterium in 1984, where I had one of the best days of my life by outsprinting a national champion to the finish line.
That was before I moved to the Lehigh Valley, where my bicycling obsessions only intensified, mainly because of Trexlertown. My serious racing ended, however, when I was busted up in a six-bike crash between turns one and two at the velodrome.
I still miss bicycle racing, and I know what it takes to compete, but that does not excuse cheating.
In 2006, after Armstrong's Tour de France heyday, I joyously wrote a column about "one of the most stunning events in sports history" — the amazing come-from-way-behind Tour de France victory of his teammate Landis, a Mennonite from Farmersville, about 35 miles from Trexlertown.
Four years later, I wrote about "the depths of disgrace" when Landis was busted for doping. "It's hard not to take this personally," I reported at the time. And when Landis said Armstrong and Hincapie had engaged in similar doping, I expressed skepticism. It just couldn't be true.
In 2005, I participated in the oh-so-happy "Spring Fling," a fundraising bicycle ride from Schnecksville to the velodrome to raise money for a cycling museum. I got to ride side-by-side with Frankie Andreu, who had been one of Armstrong's top teammates in repeated Tour de France victories.
As I reported at the time of that ride, I found Andreu to be a delight.
That, however, was a year before Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified about the doping by Armstrong and other team members, including Andreu. Armstrong successfully countered the allegations (although not for long) by using everything in his arsenal to attack the Andreus, accusing Betsy of being "crazy."
In Thursday's TV show, when Winfrey asked if the Andreus had been telling the truth all along, Armstrong declined to answer. (That may seem odd to some, in light of his mea culpa, but the conflict with the Andreus involved sworn testimony, so there may be legal concerns about that.)
Amid all this misery over what people like Armstrong have done to my beloved sport of cycling, there still are reasons to be a little personally optimistic, thanks to many other marvelous competitors who ride clean and give the sport a good name.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays