If scripted by Hollywood, the story would be dismissed as trite melodrama:
A deadly disease strikes a promising athlete. Despite desperately thin odds,
he manages not only to beat the affliction but also to return to the sport and
win its top prize. Unbelievable, except it’s true.
But the story doesn’t end on the finish line at the Tour de France. Lance
Armstrong's experience made him a part of a cancer community,
and motivated him to unleash the same passion and drive he does in bike races
to the fight against cancer. Since he made history in 1999, he has won the tour
6 more times, and has become one of the most recognizable and admired people
of this era.
The Early Years
Lance Armstrong’s sporting
career began in Plano, Texas, where his mother Linda supported his competitive
urges from the beginning. He displayed a gift early on when he won the Iron
Kids Triathlon at 13 and became a professional when he was only 16 years old.
At the near-cost of his high school diploma, he trained with the U.S. Olympic
cycling developmental team in Colorado Springs, Colorado, during his senior
year. That sealed his destiny and Lance
embarked on a career as a bike racer.
His rise in the amateur ranks appeared effortless, and Lance
qualified for the junior world championships in Moscow in 1989. By 1991 he was
the U.S. National Amateur Champion and soon after turned professional.
Once in the pro ranks, he quickly proved himself with a USPRO Championship
title, stage victories in the Tour de France, a World Championship, multiple
victories at the Tour du Pont, a No. 1 world ranking, and a spot on the U.S.
Olympic team. Lance Armstrong
entered 1996 as the No. 1 ranked cyclist in the world, competed as a member
of the U.S. Cycling Team in the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, and signed a contract
with the French-based Cofidis racing team.
The Cancer Experience
While seemingly at the top of his game, he was literally forced off his bike
in excruciating pain. In early October, his doctor gave him the stunning news
that he had cancer. And his life changed forever.
Tests revealed advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and
his brain. Though his chances for his recovery were far less than 50-50, a frightened
yet determined Lance Armstrong
began an aggressive form of chemotherapy. With the advice of specialists, he
tried a course of treatment that gave him a chance for a full recovery with
less danger of losing lung capacity as a side effect. Remarkably, the chemotherapy
began to work, and Lance gradually
allowed his thoughts to return to racing.
Cancer left him scarred physically and emotionally, but he now maintains it
was "… the best thing that ever happened to me," This new perspective
allowed him to think beyond cycling and focus on his debt to the cancer community.
He formed the Lance Armstrong
Foundation within months of his diagnosis to help others with their cancer struggles.
Lance Armstrong’s complete
recovery from cancer seemed miraculous, but actually returning to racing felt
unfathomable. Having departed from Cofidis, Lance
found himself teamless until the United States Postal Service took a leap of
faith and signed him. If he never turned another pedal, the story would be an
inspirational one. But it wasn’t enough for Lance.
He needed to prove himself in the ranks of the professional elite. His professional
comeback, however, got off to a rocky start. Early season racing in 1998 nearly
ended his career again when, in a cold and miserable Paris-Nice race, he pulled
to the side of the road and quit. Many thought that was the last day on the
bike for Lance Armstrong.
Lance later admitted that he
wasn’t ready to return to racing—he was just learning how to live
again, let alone race a bicycle. He retreated to Boone, North Carolina, with
friend and longtime coach Chris Carmichael for a week of stress-free riding.
It was there that he learned to love the bike again and build up the courage
to try again. His first race back on the bike was a reason for celebration as
he, appropriately, won the Lance Armstrong
Foundation Downtown Criterium in his hometown of Austin, Texas. His new focus
on life and training paid off in the form of top-five finishes in the Tour of
Spain and the World Championships.
1999 came with a specific goal—the Tour de France. When Lance
Armstrong went to the line at the prologue of the Tour, it was
already a victory—both for him and cancer survivors everywhere. But showing
up wasn’t enough. He won the prologue stage and rode on to win his first
Tour victory with a stunning mixture of power, aggressiveness, and team strategy.
It was now official: Lance was
an international hero.
Lance didn't stop there. He has
added six more Tour de France titles to his list, has been awarded virtually
every sports honor there is, and has become a symbol of hope and inspiration.
He also continues to be a leader and activist on behalf of cancer survivors
around the world. The Lance Armstrong
Foundation has become among the most influential organizations of its kind and
today provides practical information and tools people need to battle cancer
and live strong through education, advocacy, public health programs, and research
When Lance Armstrong retires
is still an open question, but one thing remains certain. No matter what his
path, he will travel it with the sure knowledge that every day is precious and
that every step matters.