I believe in Lance Armstrong
I believe in Lance Armstrong. I am not saying I believe Lance Armstrong. I am not going to tell you that I believe that he never used performance-enhancing drugs or that he never presented false evidence to the USADA or that the teammates who claimed they doped with him are liars. I am not saying that I believe everything that Lance Armstrong has said regarding the accusations that he used EPO blood boosters, testosterone injections, masking agents and blood transfusions (also known as blood doping) to help make himself into the greatest cyclist and endurance athlete in the world. I am also not saying that he did not deserve to be banned from cycling or stripped of his Tour de France titles. I do not know the facts surrounding these allegations any better than any other cycling fan in the world, so I’ll leave it to trained federal investigators to determine whether or not Armstrong cheated.
Despite these allegations, Lance Armstrong will still always be one of my biggest heroes for several reasons. First and foremost is his status as perhaps the greatest cancer activist of the past two decades. At the age of 25, at the beginning of a promising cycling career, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had metastasized into his lungs and brain. He was given about a 40 percent chance to live.
However, after two surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy, Lance Armstrong was still alive. He started training again and went on to win the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005. During this seven-year run, Armstrong devoted countless hours to creating the Livestrong Foundation and the iconic yellow bracelet campaign. Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $450 million for cancer. And most of the money goes to the more neglected sides of the global fight against cancer, such as mental health, nutrition and physical rehab efforts for cancer patients. Armstrong has been the highest-profile cancer survivor in the world for 15 years, serving as a source of hope and inspiration to millions of people. And the doping allegations have not slowed the Livestrong Foundation’s fundraising efforts—in fact, the organization received 25 times its average weekly donations in the week after Armstrong announced that he would no longer contest the charges. Tour de France champion or not, Lance Armstrong has been one of the greatest cancer activists in the world throughout his career.
Lance Armstrong has not only been an inspiration to cancer survivors but to an entire generation of Americans who started biking because of him as well. He elevated the sport of cycling to its highest level of publicity in history. Lance Armstrong’s inspirational life story, dramatic come-from-behind defeats and indomitable will motivated thousands of people to start exercising. The percentage of Americans registering as cyclists with the American Cycling Association rose by about 5 percent a year in the final years of Lance’s seven-year run as Tour champion, with an additional 6 percent spike when he made a comeback in 2009.
As a kid, I would watch the Tour de France every summer with my dad and brother. Lance was our hero, and my trip with my dad to Atlanta, Ga., to see him race one summer was one of the best memories of my childhood. Getting caught up watching this courageous, outspoken, American cancer survivor come from behind to win year after year made me want to start exercising. I started running cross country the week after Lance won his record-setting sixth Tour de France and have played sports ever since. And I am not alone—thousands of other American kids like me watched Lance Armstrong overcome all odds to win and were inspired to be the best they could be. No doping allegations will ever change that.
I have a hard time believing in Lance Armstrong the athlete these days. But even if I cannot believe in Lance Armstrong the athlete, I can still believe in Lance Armstrong the hero. I can still believe in the millions of dollars raised for cancer and the thousands of kids inspired by his story. Lance Armstrong the athlete has been disgraced, but Lance Armstrong’s status as an American icon will never fade away.