Posts Tagged ‘Lance Armstrong’

Thoughts on Lance

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Motivation
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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?

Hope.

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.

Lance Armstrong.

Even his name seems to speak toward something significant.

If you live in Austin as I do, Lance is more than just a home-town boy “done good”, as we say here in Texas.

It is almost as if the legend of Lance has surpassed even the greatness of the man’s achievement, and that in and of itself is a tall, tall order.

Everyone knows his story and even still, his achievements leave us dumbfounded.  Who can possibly achieve such amazing athletic accomplishments in one of, if not the most challenging, endurance sports in the world?

Livestrong Austin Marathon Bib

 

On October 2, 1996, then aged 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having developed stage three testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to an urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery, his doctor stated that he had less than a 40% chance of survival.

But survive he did.

Lance won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005 and is the only person to win the event seven times.  In fact, no other cyclist has won the Tour more than 5.

We love winners in Texas.  Who doesn’t?

But it was Lance’s mixture of athletic prowess and humility that made him so universally admired, loved and respected.  When he established a foundation to help in the mission to defeat cancer around the world, is it any surprise that the Livestrong Foundation has had the impact and incredible success since it was established in 1997? 

$400 Million dollars raised, which does not take into account the awareness that Livestrong has brought to the disease and the amount of public funding that has gone to cancer research and treatment.

Would Run for Dom ever taken place without the Livestrong Foundation leading the way, setting the example?  Would we have been able to raise more than $33,000 for Dom’s children last year?  I highly doubt it.

Now retired from the sport as a professional, Lance is battling once again.  Fighting for his legacy amid doping allegations.  Despite having passed more than 500 blood tests over his career, now there are more former teammates and competitors coming forward than ever sharing stories that Lance had cheated and in some cases, encouraged teammates to do the same.

Of course none of us want this to be true.  Personally, as much as I would like to believe Lance, my 43 years on earth tell me that more likely than not, he participated in some of the activities that he is being accused of.

This tears at me today as I truly wish that the rumors and accusations are untrue.

In a world with far too few “heroes” for our children to look up to.  I would like to think that there is one right here in my hometown that my daughter could grow up and admire. 

Someone who not only worked hard to achieve their goals, but also did not give up when everyone told them that the dream they had was impossible.  That giving up is simply not an option.  You have to fight for the things that you truly want in life, and that nobody has the right to tell you any different.

I think back to the night before the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, when I stopped down to Dom and Val’s hotel room to collect them for dinner.

Dom was lying down on the bed resting when I entered.  He stood up to give me a hug hello and he draped his narrowing arms around my shoulders.  From his left wrist hung a yellow Livestrong bracelet.

To me, that is who Lance Armstrong is.

He is the man who worked incredibly hard to give my good friend hope.  He inspired Dom to believe that he should try one more treatment, talk to one more specialist, and go through one more round of chemotherapy.  Just one more procedure.

Dom believed that anything was possible.  And nobody had a right to take that away from him.

In the end, all we had was hope.

Regardless of what comes of these allegations, that is who Lance Armstrong is to me.

Lance.  Thank you.  Without your efforts, I know we would have had even less time with Dom than we did in the end.  I’m forever grateful.