Telling my kids about Lance Armstrong
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I don’t know Lance Armstrong. I’ve never even met him – although one time I was within 10 feet of him at an organized ride. Even though I’ve never met him I feel like I know him. People ask me about Lance a lot. Maybe because I have a poster of him charging up Plateau de Beille on my desk at work. People ask me if he’s guilty.
Mommy thought I should write to you about Lance. I told her I was afraid to do that because it would come across as too angry, too intensely loyal to someone I’ve never met. But she’s right, as usual. I do need to clear my chest about Lance.
The truth is, Lance Armstrong is a big reason I am who I am today. 11 years ago, before any of you were born, I still had a “man’s room” in the house. I had all of my sports stuff in there and I holed every night to watch sports or other manly things. Remember, that was 11 years ago. I’ve changed a little. Back then I watched my first Tour de France on TV, when it was still called OLN. Lance won his 3rd consecutive Tour and I was hooked. I watched every minute of every stage. I remember few times in my life when my heart pounded as a spectator like it did then. I stood, alone in the dark, yelling “C’mon Lance! C’mon Lance!” And I prayed that he wouldn’t crash. I took up cycling that summer. And triathlon.
I’ve watched the Tour de France every summer since. There are seminal moments in my life related to the tour that have changed me as a person – because of Lance. Here are a few images of those moments:
Lance caught his handlebars on a spectators bag on Luz Ardiden and crashed in 2003 with Iban Mayo and Jan Ullrich close behind. He remounted his bike and chased the group, slipped again on a broken pedal, but ultimately won the stage. This moment more than any other sticks out in my mind. The determination and spirit he showed made me want to be a better person.
That same year, after Joseba Beloki crashed in front of him on a fast descent, Lance was forced, at 40mph, to detour through a field. He hopped a ditch and remounted with the leaders. Everyone was stunned. Sometimes in life you’re forced to adapt to the world around you. I learned to be prepared for anything and do what’s necessary.
In 2001, Lance duped the peloton into believing he was having a bad day. Then he attacked on L’Alpe D’Huez. But first, he paused for a moment, looked into the eyes of his rival Jan Ullrich and dared him to follow. Ullrich couldn’t and Lance won the day. There’s a difference between arrogance and confidence.
I could go on forever about individual moments that I cheered for Lance. The short of it is, that Lance made me believe that anything is possible. Once I had been an elite athlete. I was the best at what I did. But 11 years ago I had lost that. I was overweight and resigned to that belief that my time had come and gone. Because of Lance I got on a bike. Because of Lance I did my first triathlon. Because of Lance I rediscovered the fact that anything is possible. I mean, a guy can beat cancer – the worst possible scenario of cancer you can imagine – and still dominate the world in sport? It was time for me to get off of my butt and chase dreams again. In 2005 I raced in the ITU Age Group World Championships in Hawaii. Because of Lance.
I wore a yellow bracelet like everyone else. It meant two things: I supported Lance Armstrong the cyclist. And cancer awareness mattered to me. Years later I would learn how much it mattered when Nana battled breast cancer and your mommy had cancer removed from her leg. Cancer was out of the shadows and being worn around on millions of wrists across the globe. That’s because of Lance Armstrong.
As for the doping allegations; they’ve been trying to prove that Lance is a cheater since 1999. That’s 14 years. In 14 years he’s never failed a drug test. Not once. But the witch hunt continues. After dropping a two year probe into allegations against Lance the federal government dropped the case. Lance got his life back and returned to triathlon. He made one mistake. He made too much noise. He won 2 70.3 races in a row and said that he plans to win the Ironman World Championships in Kona. That brought his enemies back out of the shadows. They can’t let that happen. Why? Because despite what some people may tell you, not everyone in life will be happy for your success. There will be jealously. People won’t believe that anything is possible. But like Lance, you’ll have to persevere.
We all only live once. Don’t waste your life living someone else’s dream or worrying that people don’t want you to succeed at your own. If you crash, get up. If life’s road takes an unexpected detour, adapt and keep moving forward. When the “haters” come out, give them the look, and leave them in the dust.
I don’t know if Lance Armstrong is a cheater. I know he’s not perfect. We all know that. Because none of us are. What I do know is that he won the Tour de France 7 times, changed how the world understands cancer, and he changed my life. As an American I’m proud to call Lance an “American hero”. As the son and husband of people who have battled or had cancer scares, I’m thankful for his advocacy. And as an athlete and man, I’m thankful that he taught me to dream again.
Maybe by the time you read this, the world will know whether Lance was real or not. But somehow I don’t think so.
I love you kids,