“What do you think about Lance?” I can’t count how many times I have been asked that question, not just since his fall from grace, but over the last 12 years. Of course, in recent months, there’s more of a bite to the question, and I think, more of an expectation that I’ll be less enthusiastic about him and the incredible cancer-fighting agency he built. “Yea” to the former (with an asterisk), a resounding “Nay” to the latter.
I met Lance at his Ride for the Roses, a bike ride/fundraiser in Austin right after I finished chemo for breast cancer, in 2002. I was already a fan. I drove around with his book “It’s Not About the Bike” in my car during my months of chemo. My photo with him that day got inadvertently deleted in the camera (!), but I’ve gotten many more through the years. My house looks like a Lance stalker house, with all the memorabilia and photos I have of and with him. I have been to a dozen Ride for the Roses events now and have raised close to $250,000 for Livestrong. I rode from L.A. to D.C. on the inaugural Tour of Hope ride, with Lance (I rode longer than he did….. but not faster) to promote clinical trials and survivorship in 2003.
Today, Nike announced it’s ending its Livestrong line of clothing. Not surprising, since Nike cut ties with Lance after he admitted doping. I suppose I understand the corporate thinking that prompted this development, but I still think it’s kind of weak. Did they stop believing in the work of this innovative, groundbreaking foundation because its founder stumbled and fell (I know, it was a gigantic and self-inflicted fall… one of the the biggest ever for a sports figure, but work with me here, on principle.) Livestrong eclipsed Lance a long time ago. And Livestrong still has millions of supporters who are runners, cyclists, triathletes, cancer fighters who buy Nike Livestrong… like me.
Which brings me to “What do you think about Lance?” I’m disappointed by the athlete, but still supportive of the foundation he created to help cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Even that answer is not black and white.. the first part, anyway. For Lance’s first few Tour de France wins, I was a rabid supporter. “How dare you suggest that my hero doped?” As many of his competitors were popped for doping and Lance kept winning, that position got impossible to defend. In the last few years of Lance’s racing, I stopped defending. For me, it didn’t matter if he doped. I didn’t care. In those days, finding a clean and rider who was winning stages and races may have proved impossible. Titles for the Lance TdF win years (1999-2005) were vacated because 20 of the 21 top three winners have been tied to doping. I’m not saying “everybody did it” is an excuse to cheat. I am saying that I’m not going to stand on the sidelines and judge. Everyone can have his or her own opinion. And does. Keep reading.
Does the end, Livestrong, justify the means, a cycling powerhouse who admittedly doped and lied for years? A complicated question whose answer surely riles up the contingent that sees only black and white. I still see yellow. I ask what other athlete parlayed his success, contacts, and hard-headedness into a half-billion dollar foundation that’s helped hundreds of thousands of people dealing with cancer and has affected cancer-related policy around the globe? It’s a big photo op when famous athletes visit a child in a cancer ward or befriend a cancer patient or send an email or a note to someone who needs a lift. I have seen Lance do this repeatedly, cameras rolling or not, through the years. I’ve seen the difference an encouraging word from him can make. It did for me, back in 2001. I still see him as the toughest cancer survivor on the planet and one who used his powers for good. I am unwavering in my support of the foundation he created and the empowerment he has provided.
Unity is Strength
Knowledge is Power