Can you see Lance Armstrong? Can you see him race?
Race after him. Tear away his clothes—those he wears on his body and those he wears to protect his soul.
Strip him down because our demands are insatiable.
That is the pressure he again is facing. He knows it. He can handle it. He’s strong enough—physically, mentally—to handle it. God knows, he’d better be.
The man that cancer couldn’t beat is striving for a record no one before could ever reach. He is aiming for an unprecedented sixth-straight Tour de France title.
This year’s race, which started July 3, is 3,390 km long (a little less than the distance between Edmonton and Toronto), is completed in less than three weeks and, by the way, is the world’s most gruelling race.
But go back to 1996, before Lance Armstrong became an international symbol of courage and hope, when he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer and given less than a 50/50 chance to live.
He was young, he was vibrant, he was talented, and one of world’s top cyclists.
Four months shy of his 25th birthday, along with a multi-million dollar contract with a prestigious French cycling team, a beautiful home in Austin, and a brand new Porsche in the garage, nothing could touch him.
Nothing except a disease that has touched the lives of millions.
“I was in complete denial,” Armstrong admitted. “This can’t be. Why would I have cancer? After two or three minutes, I said, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’”
After the initial surgery to remove his Stage IV cancerous testicle revealed the disease had spread to his abdomen and brain, Armstrong had dramatic brain surgery to remove the cancer that wouldn’t stop.
Of the thousands of testicular cancer cases diagnosed every year, Armstrong was among the 20 percent found with the most advanced form.
He then underwent four rounds of chemotherapy spanning 12 weeks and was given chemicals so powerful that the drugs destroyed his musculature and caused permanent kidney damage.
In the final treatments, the chemicals left burns on his skin from the inside out.
But even during the worst time of his life, he was looking forward to his best.
The cocktail of chemicals (called VIP—Ifosfamide, Etoposide, and Platinol) given to him made for a greater chance of full recovery not only in life but as a cyclist, because the drugs were less threatening to his lung capacity.
This way of thinking, never mind you how brilliant, is reserved only for those who have battled adversity their entire lives.
His mother, Linda, was 17 when he was born and his biological father left two years later. He never knew or wants to know his father, and refers to him simply as “the DNA donor.”
“The main thing you need to know,” Armstrong said in his best-selling autobiography, “It’s Not About the Bike,” “is that I never had a real father, but I never sat around wishing for one, either . . . I’ve never had a single conversation with my mother about him.”
His step-father whipped him and he was an outcast in the hard-edged town of Plano, Tex. But when the 13-year-old trouble-maker discovered he could smother his mental anguish by countering it with physical torment, he devoted his life to it.
Triathlons as a child; cycling as an adult.
And after only two years of receiving the bad news, he came back to cycling and brought bad news to others—he was back. And a year later, in 1999, he won the first of his five-straight Tour de France crowns.
This year, Armstrong—after eight stages and the first phase of the race complete—is sitting at a comfortable sixth place, 9:35 minutes behind the leader and 55 seconds ahead of his biggest rival in Germany’s Jan Ullrich, who has come second to Armstrong three times.
The mountain phase, Armstrong’s strongest suit, is still ahead.
Getting cancer was “. . . the best thing that ever happened to me,” wrote Armstrong, because of the maturity and focus on life he gained from the disease.
Because remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn.
And it might have been one of the best things to happen to other people inflicted with the disease. The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was established in 1997, has raised more than $34 million and has given out $6.4 million in research grants.
It is a highly-respected, non-profit organization that provides practical information and support to new and old victims. “Live Strong” is the foundation’s motto.
But Armstrong needed cancer to find out just how tough he really was and not even a Hollywood writer could have drawn a better script.
It is never possible to conquer fear, but it can be subdued for a time. Watch the great athlete work at his craft and you see someone who has known fear before, and who undoubtedly will know fear again, but who goes about his job fearlessly.
No one has portrayed this better and longer than Armstrong. This is his courage—and it is towering to behold.
“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing,” wrote Armstrong, who has a resting heart rate of 32 beats per minute but can accelerate beyond 200 with a heart that is one-third larger than a normal person’s.
“The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain.
“I’m on the bike and I go into a rage. I shriek for about five seconds, I shake like mad, my eyes kind of bulge. That’s heart. That’s soul. That’s guts.”
You cannot disbelieve him, because he is honest. But you have to wonder. Who ever knows exactly why he does what he does? Is it for glory? Is it to assure to himself he’s okay? Or is it to give others hope?
Perhaps this is why Lance Armstrong races.
Maybe he’s trying to prove—to himself, to others—that cycling is part pain, part pleasure. Like life. His life. It becomes a life of its own. Part pain, part pleasure. A universe slips between these extremes.
We spend too much time labelling things. So let it be. He rides. Sit back and enjoy it. What does it prove? It doesn’t have to prove anything. It is. He races.
“If you ever get a second chance in life for something, go all the way,” Armstrong writes.
Superman’s secret identity is not Clark Kent, it is Lance Armstrong.
• • •
Entries are now being accepted for the second-annual Rick Pearson Memorial golf tournament, which will be held Monday, Aug. 2 at Kitchen Creek.
There is a 36-team limit, with only 26 spots left, so those interested are urged to register soon.
For more information, call Sonja Bodnarchuk (274-2346) or Nadine Johnson (274-6252).
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Can you see Lance Armstrong? Can you see him race?