How the mighty have fallen.
Lance Armstrong won one of the world’s most grueling sporting events, the 21 day bike race known as the Tour de France, a record seven consecutive years, from 1999 to 2005. While earning these wins, he became a celebrity, earning commercial endorsements and becoming a celebrity. Lance has made millions of dollars.
Lance grew up in very humble beginnings in Texas. His father wasn’t around when he grew up and his mother worked long hours. In one of his books, he wrote he wasn’t coordinated enough to play football in high school. But he found triathlons (he was too young to compete when he first started, so he’d lie about his age, ironically enough) and later biking to help work off the stresses in his life. Lance made his way up the world of professional biking. At first, he was young and brash, pulling far ahead of competitors but would run out of energy and the other bicyclists would catch up.
He later learned to control his urges and poured his energy into training. Lance won all those Tours de France with the help of teammates and his brutal training regimen. His edge was in the hills and mountains. While Lance wasn’t the fastest biker in the flats, he would power up hills and mountains, leaving competitors far behind. He would build leads that others couldn’t close.
But, as we officially learned last week, he cheated too. Lance used performance enhancing drugs as part of his single minded plan to win. He’s been officially stripped of his Tour de France wins. (No one else has been awarded those Tour de France wins, because all those who came in second and third those years were found to have been using performance enhancing drugs, or suspected of it, too.) Not only did he cheat, but he did everything in his power to cover up his cheating, including lying, bullying others and filing lawsuits against people telling the truth. Lance didn’t use a broom to cover his tracks, he used a flame thrower. After dodging criminal investigations and lawsuits, for whatever reason, Lance has come clean, as it were (or so he says).
But Lance Armstrong, like all of us, is a complicated person. He’s been called perhaps the biggest liar and cheater in the history of professional sports. He’s wrecked the reputations (until now) of those who tried to expose him. But Lance is also a cancer survivor (testicular cancer that spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and brain) who learned first hand how awful cancer, and its treatment, is. Unlike most cancer survivors, he did something about it. He started the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997.
Lance used his celebrity status, connections he’d made in sports and his public persona as a ‘clean’ superhuman competitor to help the foundation raise over $470 million. What sets this foundation apart is its focus on improving the lives of cancer survivors. The research it funds isn’t to find cures for cancer, but to find ways to improve the lives of cancer survivors. I don’t think there’s any organization like this, of this size, with this focus. It fills a niche that desperately needs to be filled. See for yourself.
Last year, the foundation changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation. Lance stepped down as chairman of its board of directors then left the board completely.
I know the good the foundation does because I had a job that it funded for two years, in 2008 and 2009. I worked for the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc., in Philadelphia, providing free legal services to cancer survivors, their families and providing educational programs for their social workers and nurses. In my 16 year legal career, it was the best job I ever had. I couldn’t find any other foundation to fund the project, because no one else was willing to help cancer survivors this way. I’ve been raising money for the foundation since 2008. I met Lance that year, and in my home’s hallway is a copy of the foundation’s mission statement that he signed.
Lance Armstrong created an illusion and as result, became ‘successful’ in many ways. But like all illusions, this one was exposed, creating a huge backlash. But that backlash shouldn’t involve the foundation. Lance Armstrong is no longer involved in it, and not donating to the Livestrong Foundation will not harm him. It does too much good, for too many people that no other organization is doing. The Lance Armstrong image was not real, but cancer and the damage it does is all too real and the good the Livestrong Foundation does is very real. This foundation, its employees, volunteers and those who benefit from them, should not suffer because of the failings of one man.