Thoughts on Lance

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Motivation

Last night I tuned into the Oprah Winfrey network for the first time of my life to watch her interview with Austin’s own Lance Armstrong.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time leading up to the broadcast wondering if Lance was going to admit to doping or not.  That was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Lance’s denials in the past were passionate, aggressive and at times extremely combative.  Like the bully on the school yard who controls everything around them to keep the upper hand, Lance’s approach was always to control the dialogue.

Even without all of the leaks that started to surface on Monday and Tuesday this week when the interviews took place at Lance’s home here in Austin, I knew what we were going to hear.

Lance took performance enhancing drugs.

Lance blood doped.

Lance lied about it all repeatedly.

Lance was going to finally admit to it all.

So why tune in?  Why devote my time to it?  There was not even the slightest percentage in me that believed we were all going to be surprised and hear that Lance was indeed clean.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

But still, no matter how saddened I was to learn that someone who I had a tremendous amount of respect for as an athlete had cheated and lied about it – there is another part of me that is grateful to Lance Armstrong and the work his foundation has done for cancer victims and their families at Livestrong.

I wasn’t that interested in hearing about how Lance Armstrong the athlete cheated, who did what and when, how was it concealed, why did he do it, could he have won without it etc.

I was interested in seeing Lance Armstrong the man talk about his shortcomings, his weaknesses, his mistakes and his desire to try to make things as right as possible going forward.  To me that is what was most compelling about his interview with Oprah.

To take you back a few years, before Run for Dom began, imagine you are a 38 year-old man, happily married, part of a big, loving, Italian family with a Mom and Dad, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews and two small children of your own 3 years old and 6 months old.  You are having a hard time eating lately.  Have some stomach pains that seem out of the ordinary, but you’ve been healthy your whole life.  Active, vibrant.  You pop some antacids and go on about your business.

The pain seems to be taking too long to go away and you schedule an appointment with a Doctor.  They ask about your symptoms, give you a check-up, take some blood and tell you that it could be diverticulitis or perhaps even Chron’s disease.

You continue to work, go about your business, you even head to downtown Pittsburgh one Sunday where a friend of yours celebrates qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

A month later you are diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer.  Your chances for survival – not good.  You have Doctors explaining things to you in a language you do not understand.  Your insurance at work is confusing and you do not know where to start from a claims standpoint.  They tell you that you need to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatment, then an aggressive surgery to remove your stomach, spleen, parts of your intestine and parts of some other organs that you really don’t know what they do or where they are.

How much is this going to cost?

Where is this money going to come from?

How much longer will I have with my kids?  My wife?  My Family?

Will my baby boy remember me when I’m gone?  How about my daughter?

You know what you need at that moment more than anything?


Any sliver of hope.  Just the chance that somehow you are going to beat this thing.  That it does happen.  It can happen.

Enter Lance Armstrong.

In October 1996, just 25 years old he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. His cancer treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy.  In February 1997, he was declared cancer free and the same year he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer support or known to many as Livestrong.

He returns to competitive cycling and two years later wins his first of 7 tour de France titles.

For someone like my friend Dom who had very little hope, Lance embodied what everyone who is affected by that horrible disease wishes for.  Just a chance to be that one in a million person who can beat the disease down, stomp it to the ground and move on living a long, happy, healthy and very aware as to how lucky they are – life.

I remember Dom’s ever narrowing wrist and the yellow Livestrong bracelet he wore throughout his treatments, surgery and recovery periods.  How he spoke of the resources that he would be referred to through Livestrong to help navigate all the paperwork, filings and maze of insurance.  How he believed that the only way he was going to get better was to fight the disease with every ounce of strength he had and every bit of tenacity he could muster – just wanting to extend his life as long as possible to watch his children grow up.  Put as many memories of him as he could into their minds and hearts.

On August 15, 2010 we lost Dom to cancer.

14 days later I became a Dad.

Talk about a month of gaining perspective about life.

So as I watched Lance and Oprah speak last night it was easy for me to separate the athlete from the humanitarian.

Lance is a flawed person.  No doubt about it.  He admitted as much during his interview repeatedly.

As an athlete in Austin who has run with Lance, raced in events that he has raced in, trained on my bike on the very roads that Lance has ridden, run hills he has run and swam in lakes where he has trained I can say that I am very, very disappointed that he chose to cheat, lie, cover-up and throw others under the bus that called him out on his doping.  It was a despicable way for him to operate.  The cheating in a sport full of cheaters is something that I think we all would have been able to understand on some level.  Not condone, endorse or accept.  But I could at least understand it happening given the pressures he felt to compete and win at the top-level of the sport.

But the other part of it.  The deception, attacks on those who challenged him – unforgivable.

As for his humanitarian efforts with the foundation, keeping in mind that it was formed before Lance was “Lance”.  I will say right here the same thing I will say to Lance in person the next time I see him at a triathlon, road race or out training in Austin.

Thank you Lance.  You made a huge impact on the life of a close friend and his family when they were going through a terrible, terrible time.

Thank you.

  1. Jason says:

    That is a great perspective and another way to look at this entire ordeal. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Winston Kenton says:

    It’s pretty amazing Joe, how well you summed up just about everything I’ve felt regarding Lance. No matter what, his inspirational battle with cancer is something that gives us all hope. His athletic achievements would have been remarkable post-cancer even if he hadn’t won the Tour 7 times…IF he had remained clean. As an athlete, he is tarnished, but as a survivor, he is someone who can give a lot of folks hope.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Winston – thanks so much for the visit and the message. I know you know all of the ins, outs, ups, downs and things that we all went through during Dom’s cancer battle as well as, if not better than most. I’m forever grateful for everything Livestrong did for Dom and for the hope that Lance’s own cancer battle provided him. Sometimes great things come from a flawed beginning. I think this is one of those times. Best to you and the family Winston!

  3. Interesting view Joe. I wish I could compartmentalize the the “humanitarian Lance” from the drug cheat and vicious control freak but I just can’t. True character shows in your actions and I think we know enough about Lance to know what kind of guy he really is. Humanitarians don’t wreck the careers of their friends and co-workers. With his fame, money and influence he (by his own admission) went after people who were doing nothing more than telling the truth. Suing them and creating emotional and financial hardship. No doubt his actions contributed to the destruction of his own marriage. To be honest I was never big Lance fan or Livestrong supporter because I thought the guy was a bit of a jerk, turns out I was right (again by his own admission).

    I’m truly glad though that Dom was able to draw some strength from Lance’s example during his struggle, but unfortunately most of it was a lie perpetrated by a man who’s sole intent was to ‘win at all costs’. It’s one thing if you are drawing strength knowing it’s a lie (like an inspirational book or movie) but I can’t see it as anything other than a betrayal to sell someone a lie and claim it’s real.

    I watched all of part one last night and for most of it I was watching it with my two boys (18 and 15). It was a great opportunity to talk about personal responsibility and character and what happens to you in life when you have neither, regardless of how you beat cancer and how fast you can peddle a bike. It was obvious even to them that his apologies were forced and lacked heart-felt contrition and sincerity. The interview obviously was all about rebuilding his reputation now that he can no longer hide, why else do it?

    I was thinking I wouldn’t even look his way if I saw him on the street but I think I too would go up and thank him. I would say thank you for showing my sons how selfish ambition,win at all costs and a singular lack of caring for people in your life leads to spiraling self-destruction. Lance is going to spend the next ten years in court getting sued by everyone he hurt, poetic justice huh?

    Joe, you are ten-times the humanitarian this guy ever was and your dedication to Dom shows it. Never forget that…

    • joerunfordom says:

      Rob – thanks so much for the message and man, I understand everything you said above and appreciate the candor and your ability to articulate it. If anything your sons learned last night and I thought about this with Landry in my lap as well – if ever a poster of an athlete is going up on our children’s bedroom walls – it pretty much should be a poster of their Dads, because nobody else can measure up.

      Thanks again for the kind words Rob – hope you and the family are great! J

    • Nina says:

      Rob, thank you for your response, you took every word out of my mouth! I have done so much work with charities and volunteer work with many wonderful non-profit organizations, even those affected with cancer. Like you, I can NOT conparmentalize this humanitarian thing Lance has done from the character he has shown to be. To be honest, I feel that all he did was just get it started, then used his name while others did the work for him. He used his name all while deceiving everyone. You do not do good things like that and think you can get away with being someone that lacks integrity. He destroyed lives over and over. And he doesn’t even talk about the damage he has done to his own children! He only cares about himself, and he will use this foundation and his cancer “experience” to continue getting what he wants. I think the ulitmate karma will be cancer comes back and this time he doesn’t beat it.

      • joerunfordom says:

        Hi Nina – thanks for the message. I completely understand the points you are making and your position. The only one I cannot agree with is the part about him getting sick again. Nobody and I mean nobody deserves that to happen to them. I hope he instead finds a way to impact lives positively again, even if it takes him the rest of his days to do it.

        We can all learn from others, good people and bad. This is certainly one of those times where an example of how not to behave is held out for all of us to see.

      • renee says:

        i’m not as diplomatic or kind joe.

        shame on you nina: “I think the ulitmate karma will be cancer comes back and this time he doesn’t beat it.”

        all those wrongs doesn’t deserve a out of remission health status–as wrong as he was…is….you should NEVER “wish” that on anyone by making such a statement of that magnitude.

        do you hear yourself? clearly, you know nothing about how cancer wreaks havoc on not only the patient but the family, friends, and loved ones. and i’m dominic’s cousin and biggest proponent. i was in the trenches with him on all of the above. i can say without doubt, your comment makes me sick to my stomach.

        if his cancers comes back and takes his life, its not because of karma, its science and perhaps fate–pure and simple. you should be careful what venom comes spewing from your mouth . karma works in mysterious ways.

  4. robin says:

    What an absolutely well written post. I feel the same way as you and have been trying to formulate thoughts around that, and not to well. You managed to do it! Well done and thanks.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Robin! Thanks so much for the kind words and as always, all the great support. I had a short test run this morning of just 2 miles to take stock of the Achilles. Thought about Lance just about the entire time. Really a sad day – but just about everyone saw this one coming for awhile now.

  5. Karla Gregg says:

    Excellent post Joe. I think in the end, something good will come of all this. The cycling world will never be the same again. Hopefully, it will all be for the better. I do hope his livestrong foundation goes on and inspires hope in other cancer patients.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Karla! So great to hear from you – congrats again on Houston! Yep, for someone who usually is very committed to my position on things, I find myself very torn when it comes to Lance the man vs. Lance the athlete. Lots of blurry lines to cross and shades of grey to interpret. I do wish the foundation all the best moving forward. They are in for a bumpy ride for sure.

  6. Eric Matyskiela says:

    What a great take on this issue. Every time this subject comes up on the news I think about my brother and loosing him to cancer in 2009. (he was a marathoner and tri-athlete and used Lance as the focal point of his fight), Your statement about Dom wearing the Livestrong bracelet really hit home. Wow, that brought back some memories! Funny how you think about an issue in a certain way but can’t explain how you feel until some else puts it into words. Couldn’t have said it better!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Eric. S sorry to hear about your Brother. I know you must miss him every day. It is definitely a complicated set of emotions that we are sifting through, where such a large part of me wants to dismiss Lance as a selfish, egomaniacal athlete who put himself first at the expense of others, and the there are the selfless things he did to help others struggling with the disease that are not so easily dismissed.

      The characteristics that allowed Lance to compete at a high level before the fame and doping (as he was a tremendous athlete long before the Tour) are the ones that drove Livestrong at its start.

      But the flaws in Lance the man ultimately brought us to where we are today, and it is hard to defend his actions.

      • Joseph Hayes says:

        One unfortunate thing I learned about charitable organizations is that they only legally have to donate a very small percentage of their income to the actual charity.

        I was reading a story about the Shelby Foundation created by the late Carroll Shelby. The foundation was being targeted because they were behind on their donations. According to the article, in California, a non-profit charitable organization is only required to give 2% of their profits to charity! The point is, given Lance’s character, he may have created Livestrong for reasons other than to help those with cancer.

  7. Joseph Hayes says:

    You’ve captured my perspective in a nut shell. Celebrities are people too. They are by no means perfect in any way and make mistakes like we all do.

    My main problem with this whole situation is, as you stated, that he viciously attacked his accusers and bullied them with his ill gotten money. I would have respected him if he had just fessed up when the initial accusation was made. On the other hand though, who among us wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to protect our standard of living or reputation regardless of how much we deserved it or not? Not many.

    One thing I don’t understand is his lifetime ban from ANY competitive sports. In the past 6 months I’ve seen articles about at least 3 different elite runners that were given 2 year bans from competition. I understand the stripping of the titles but why the lifetime ban?

    • joerunfordom says:

      Joseph – thanks for the visit and the message, great points in your post(s). The Administrative cost % is becoming a very hot topic among founders, grant makers and individual donors. As it should be. Some 501c3 organizations do a great job here, some definitely do not.

      The organization I work for for example is quite lean with less than 15% of our funding going to running the organization, 85%+ going to supporting our constituents directly. 25% is generally considered acceptable practice. Many are nowhere near that number as you indicated.

      As for the lifetime ban, I agree with you and with Lance’s comments to a degree last night. If he had come clean without all of the personal attacks, lawsuits etc. I believe he would have received a more modest suspension. But he definitely left scorched earth behind him and it cost him dearly in that regard.

      I will say that when Lance participated in an event here in Austin it made for some exciting racing. Years that we ran in the Austin Marathon or half marathon at the same time kent a lot of energy to the crowds and to the runners. Maybe down the road he will be able to compete in triathlons and road races, but for now I can’t imagine that happening before we are well into our 50’s.

  8. renee says:

    love this. been struggling with this mess he made. die hard supporter from the cancer diagnosis. i must admit, i didn’t think too much of him given he was (too) a wife cheater. i did a 180 once he got sick. once i saw he was going on ophra i knew. his performance there was a bit unnerving (to say the least) and not what i expected to see (though perhaps should have been just that) arrogant, glib, no humility, remorse for getting caught and outed, not for his victims or his behavior. i just don’t believe he’s at all sorry. at all. yet, i can still separate the athlete and the cheater (sister mary audrey once said if you’re a cheat, you’re a liar, a sneak, and a thief–only now i see its not far from the truth) from the man and cancer survivor. he’s cheating death and continues to do so on borrowed time that’s what remind me how important compassion is. you were able to articulate what i myself could not find words to describe. i wish him well, he’s going to need it. godspeed lance.

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