Cancer was arguably the best thing that ever happened to Lance Armstrong. The world champion cyclist's career can be divided into two distinct periods: pre- and post-cancer. In the first, he was a brash young rider who won by sheer force and drive, but who did so arrogantly and without respect for his sport. After beating the odds and surviving testicular cancer, Armstrong came back to racing a humbled and thoughtful rider who channeled his energies, learned to depend on his team, and won an astonishing four grueling Tour de France races.
Armstrong was born September 18, 1971 near Dallas, Texas. His mother Linda, a secretary, was just seventeen years old when he was born, and her husband, Gunderson, left the family when Lance was two. When Linda got a better job, mother and son moved from a low-income suburb of Dallas and bought a home in Plano, Texas. Linda's second husband, Terry Armstrong, was a born-again Christian and strict disciplinarian who could not tolerate the rambunctious nature of a growing boy. Lance never bonded with his adoptive father. His mother, with whom he remains very close, was always his greatest influence.
In addition to an adversarial relationship with his stepfather, Armstrong did not fit in in Plano, where kids who were football players and whose parents had money were in favor, and he was neither. In fifth grade, he found a way to channel some of his energy and angst when he won a distance-running race at school. He then started swimming at the City of Plano Swim Club, where, after a rocky start, he found a place where he fit in. Because of his lack of skill the twelve-year-old was assigned to a class of seven-year-olds, but Armstrong swallowed his pride and soon began to swim quite well. Under the guidance of coach Chris MacCurdy, he started to train, swim, and win competitively. At age thirteen, he was riding his bike twenty miles every day to and from school and swim practice, which started at 5:30 in the morning and met again after school.
Saw His Future in Grueling Race
Hanging out at the local bike shop, the Richardson Bike Mart, Armstrong saw an ad for a competition called a triathlon, which was a combination swim, bike, and running race. The event, a junior triathlon called Iron Kids, seemed like a natural fit for Armstrong. His mother encouraged him and saved money to buy him the racing clothes and bike he needed. He easily won the race, and soon signed up for another. He had discovered something that he could excel at; he found he thrived at suffering through the grueling competitions. When his mother told Armstrong she was divorcing his stepfather, the boy was ambivalent; it would be a relief to be rid of him, but it also meant his mother would have to struggle to support them on her own.
In 1987, at age fifteen, Armstrong entered his first non-junior triathlon, the President's Triathlon. He finished the course a respectable 32nd in a field of much older, more experienced athletes. He declared his intentions to be the best in ten years time, which was a clear indication of his natural cockiness. In 1988, he placed fifth in the event. He entered as many triathlons as he could, often lying about his age to qualify. The older athletes called him Junior. He soon started entering cycling contests as well, and winning against more experienced riders. His prize winnings made Armstrong a contributor to the family income, which also motivated him. At age sixteen, he was earning about $20,000 a year in race money. After an astonishing cycling race win in New Mexico in 1989, Armstrong was invited by the U.S. Cycling Federation to train with the U.S. Olympic developmental team in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and to compete at the Junior World Championships in Moscow.
Armstrong found in Moscow that he had a lot to learn about the tactical aspects of European racing, but his natural talent and competitive drive was clear to both European and American officials and team managers. When he returned home from Moscow, Armstrong, who was set to graduate in a few weeks, found out that the administrators of Plano East High were counting his time away as unexcused and were not going to let him graduate. Frantic but determined, Armstrong and his
mother found a private school that would let him transfer and graduate on time, if he made up his work over the summer. Soon after graduation, Armstrong was invited to join the U.S. national team.
Coach Tried to Rein Him In
The U.S. team coach, Chris Carmichael, recognized Armstrong's aggressive, headstrong nature and sought to rein it in and teach him the skills of international cycling competition. At the 1990 World Championships, his first race with the national team, Armstrong ignored Carmichael, who had instructed him to pace himself and remain with the "peloton," or pack of cyclists, on the 115-mile course. Armstrong went full force, and pulled far ahead of the peloton. As he tired though, the pack caught up with him and the riders who had conserved their energy pulled ahead. Still, Armstrong finished a respectable 11th, the best finish ever for an American in the race. Armstrong, who was nicknamed the Texas Bull, had many similar experiences, but never seemed to be able to learn from them.
|1971||Born September 18 in Texas|
|1984||Wins his first triathlon, a junior event called Iron Kids|
|1987||Enters his first non-junior triathlon|
|1987||Competes as a professional triathlete|
|1989||Qualifies to train with the U.S. Olympic developmental team in Colorado Springs, Colorado|
|1989||Competes in the Junior World Championships in Moscow|
|1992||Turns pro after Olympics in Barcelona, Spain|
|1992||Finishes first professional race dead last—27 minutes behind the winner|
|1993||Becomes youngest world road-racing champion|
|1993||Wins first stage in the Tour de France, but drops out|
|1993||Is member of first U.S. team, Team Motorola, to be ranked top-five in the world|
|1994||Fails to win a single race|
|1995||Finishes Tour de France with one stage win|
|1996||Drops out of Tour de France in July with a cold|
|1996||Is diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in October|
|1996||Undergoes operations to remove affected testicle and lesions in his brain|
|1997||Cancer goes into remission in January|
|1997||Signs modest contract with U.S. Postal Team after being dropped by French Cofidis team|
|1998||Marries Kristin "Kik" Richard and returns to racing|
In 1992, Armstrong won his first two major races, the First Union Grand Prix in Atlanta and Thrift Drug Classic in Pittsburgh. He also raced on the U.S. Olympic team at the Games in Barcelona, Spain, finishing 14th in the road race. Soon after, he entered his first professional European race, a tough, one-day race called the San Sebastian Classic, which was also held in Spain. The crowd laughed at him as he finished last, 27 minutes behind the winner, in the driving rain. Two weeks later, he took second place in a World Cup race in Zurich, Switzerland. Armstrong plowed ahead in the international circuit, competing well in races, but not winning favor. His brash and disrespectful attitude offended many European riders and fans. "I raced with no respect. Absolutely none," he admitted in his autobiography. "I paraded, mouthed off, shoved my fists in the air. I was still the kid from Plano with a chip on my shoulder, riding headlong, pedaling out of anger." In 1993, he won the Thrift Drug Triple Crown: first place in Thrift Drug Classic, K-Mart Classic, and Core States and took first place in the U.S. Pro Road Race.
Armstrong was becoming proficient in daylong events, and had placed second in the eleven-day Tour DuPont. With this respectable but meager experience behind him, Armstrong plowed into his first Tour de France. The 21-year-old, first-year pro had no concept of the respect that the grueling, 21-day, 2,300-plus-mile race through the French and Belgian countryside and mountains deserved. He lasted eleven days, dropping out in 62nd place. He came back one month later to win the 1993 World Championships in Oslo, Norway. At the awards ceremony, he pulled his mother up onto the podium with him. His first big, international win fueled Armstrong to work harder. His team, Team Motorola, finished the season ranked in the top five in the world—a first for an American team.
Cocky But Unable to Go the Distance
A powerful, muscular rider, he continued to excel in one-day races, but usually faded early in multi-day competitions, though he placed second again in the Tour DuPont, the biggest race in America, and almost a prerequisite to the Tour de France. He did not win a single race in 1994.
Competitive road-racing cyclists must be multi-talented. Riders must be able to endure long stretches of paced cycling, and also be able to power up steep mountains. Most cyclists are better at one or the other, but to ever compete in the Tour de France, he must be a master of both. Armstrong trained in the Rocky Mountains and European Alps to make him more proficient at the climbing portions of multi-stage races. Armstrong finally proved himself in the Tour DuPont in 1995 by finishing in first place.
Armstrong finished his first Tour de France, in 1995, a humbled man. His Motorola teammate, Fabio Casartelli, was killed in a crash in the 15th stage of the race. Armstrong dedicated his 18th-stage win to Casartelli, but admitted after the race that he had learned more about life and death on this Tour than he had about cycling. At this point, he was ranked seventh in the world and was making about $750,000 per year. After the season ended, he trained harder than ever to come back even stronger for the 1996 season.
An early season crash set Armstrong back in his training, and he was finishing second in races he'd expected to win. Then, Team Motorola announced it was quitting its sponsorship, leaving the Motorola riders teamless. This season would be key for Armstrong if he expected to land a contract with another team. The pressure made him perform well at the European spring races, and he won the Tour DuPont for the second year in a row. When he crossed the finish line, exhausted rather than exalted, he should have known something was wrong.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1984||First place, Iron Kids Triathlon|
|1991||First place, U.S. National Amateur Championships|
|1992||First place, First Union Grand Prix|
|1992||First place, Thrift Drug Classic|
|1992||14th place in road race, Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain|
|1992||Second place, World Cup race in Zurich, Switzerland|
|1993||Thrift Drug Triple Crown: first place in Thrift Drug Classic, K-Mart Classic, and Core States|
|1993||First place, U.S. Pro Road Race|
|1993||Second place, Tour DuPont|
|1993||World road-racing champion|
|1995-96||First place, Tour DuPont|
|1996||12th place, Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia|
|1998||Fourth place, U.S. Pro Championships|
|1998||Fourth place, World Championships|
|1998||First place, Tour of Luxembourg|
|1998||First place, Sprint 56K Criterium|
|1998||First place, Cascade Classic|
|1998||First place, Rheinland Pfafz Rundfahrt|
|1998||Second place, First Union International|
|1999-2002||First place, Tour de France|
|2000||Third place in time trial, Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia|
Sportsman of the Year
The man doesn't sit still. His wife knows why, too.
She met him when he was a pale-yellow version of himself, half gone from chemo and scared to die. "I got to know Lance when he was standing on the edge between life and death," Kristin says. "It was awesome to be part of. I felt like he showed me the view from that cliff. That bonds two people. And if you get to come back down from that edge, it changes your life. You never want to miss out on anything fun or beautiful or scary again."
So he does his Texas Tornado thing. He motocrosses Baja with Lyle Lovett. He drives like he's racing Steve McQueen. He wakes the kids up to play. He puts Luke in one of those little trailers behind his bike. (O.K., Luke, we're going to take this downhill at about 70 miles per hour! Hang on!) He pounds out a hand-cramping number of letters to cancer patients and learns to surf in Hawaii. Anything to prove he'll never waste that second chance.
Source: Reilly, Rick. Sports Illustrated, December 16, 2002, p. 52.
Armstrong was ranked fourth in the world at the start of the 1996 Tour de France but feeling sick and out of breath, pulled himself out of the race by the sixth day. He refocused his energies to finding a new sponsor and preparing for the 1996 Olympics, held on home turf in Atlanta, Georgia. He finished a disappointing 12th in Atlanta,
but managed to sign a two-year, $2.5 million contract with French team Cofidis. His performance in the fall World Cup season was disappointing, as well, and he retreated to his new home in Austin, Texas to rest.
Pain Tolerance Delayed Cancer Diagnosis
Armstrong noticed swelling in his right testicle but did not seek medical attention until he started coughing up blood. What he thought would be a routine visit turned on him when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Accustomed to enduring pain, Armstrong had ignored his discomfort for so long that the cancer had spread to his abdomen and lungs. At the time, he was most concerned with not being able to race again.
Doctors removed the testicle, and Armstrong began aggressive chemotherapy treatment. The situation turned critical when doctors found the cancer had spread to his brain, and on October 25, 1996, he underwent brain surgery to remove two tumors. His tolerance for pain served him well through his battle with cancer, and he was given a 40-percent chance of survival. Luckily, his sponsors and the Cofidis team remained behind him, though legally they did not have to. After a while, Cofidis started to back away from Armstrong and, while he lay sick and curled up in his bed, renegotiated his contract.
After a few short months of surgery and aggressive and debilitating chemo, Armstrong's cancer was in remission. He returned home bald, scarred, weak, but alive. His doctors were cautiously optimistic about his recovery and possible return to racing, but Armstrong found himself, for the first time in his life, looking at life as more than a race to win, and did some soul searching. He then founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help cancer patients and survivors. He met Kristin "Kik" Richard working with the foundation. The two were married in 1998 and have three children.
Armstrong's doctors cautioned him to train slowly, and it became clear he would not ride in the 1997 season; they would not allow him to race until his cancer had been in remission for a full year. Dropped from the Cofidis team, Armstrong resolved to come back stronger than ever. The U.S. Postal Team took a risk on Armstrong by signing him when he was unable to race, but for it he took a drastic cut in pay. Armstrong placed 14th in his first race back, Spain's Ruta del Sol, a remarkable finish considering he had also just beaten cancer. In France soon after, he dropped out of a race midway and returned to Texas in an inexplicable funk. After watching Armstrong languish in front of the TV for weeks, his coach, Chris Carmichael, told him to announce his retirement or get back to training. After an intensive training camp in the Appalachians, Armstrong recovered his will to race.
A Most Remarkable Recovery
Armstrong finished fourth in the U.S. Pro Championships in June 1998. After a first place finish in the Tour of Luxembourg and taking fourth in the World Championships, Armstrong was back in full force. Wisely, he avoided the 1998 Tour de France, which was plagued by a doping scandal. 1999 was going to be his year.
On July 4, 1999 Armstrong, leaner and stronger than ever, started the Tour de France with force. After taking the lead early on—and donning the race leader's yellow jersey—competitors were sure he would drop back. He hung back for a few stages, but regained his lead on the ninth day, where the race entered the grueling Alps region. Speculation of performance-enhancing drug use dogged him, but his drug tests came up clean. The race was his when he crossed the finish line in Paris on July 25, 1999. He was only the second American to win the Tour de France. The first was Greg Le Mond. His repeat 2000, 2001, and 2002 wins of the Tour de France were nothing short of miraculous. The "Golden Boy of American Cycling" amazed his friends, family, and fans by first conquering cancer, and then the world's toughest race. In 2003, he'll set out to tie Spaniard Miguel Indurain 's record of five Tour de France wins.
Related Biography: United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team
No cyclist wins the Tour de France on his own. On each team, there is an arrangement of cyclists who strategize to bring the team leader to the finish line. At times, the leader will ride behind a teammate, "drafting," and cyclists often flank their leader to protect him from collisions with other riders. "An individual can make a silly mistake, but when he's got a great team around him, it's hard to make a mistake," Armstrong admitted to Bonnie DeSimone of the Chicago Tribune. The United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team consists of twenty riders from around the world. Seventeen of the twenty riders, including second-place Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras, must have Grand Tour experience. Armstrong's 2003 team includes Viatcheslav Ekimov, George Hincapie, Benoit Joachim, Floyd Landis, Pavel Padrnos and Victor Hugo Pena, who raced with him in the 2002 Tour de France. Each must be talented enough to win, but who forfeit their own glory for that of their team and leader.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY ARMSTRONG:
(With Sally Jenkins) It's Not About the Bike, Berkley Books, 2001.
Armstong, Lance (with Sally Jenkins). It's Not About the Bike. New York: Berkley Books, 2001.
Thompson, John. Lance Armstrong. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001.
Abt, Samuel. "Armstrong completes a tour de force." New York Times (July 29, 2002): D1.
Abt, Samuel. "The French (mostly) adore Armstrong." New York Times (July 30, 2002): D5.
Abt, Samuel. "Getting things right, so no one can follow." New York Times (July 29, 2002): D5.
Anderson, Kelly. "King of the hill." Sports Illustrated ly 29, 2002): 32.
Brown, Justin. "Cycling is all pumped up about its doping problem." Christian Science Monitor (July 26, 2002): 12.
DeSimone, Bonnie. "Armstrong hasn't hit his finish line yet." Chicago Tribune (July 29, 2002): 3.1.
"Easiest rider." People (August 12, 2002): 68.
"Pedaling to the top." Christian Science Monitor (July 30, 2002): 10.
Pugh, Tony. "Postal service bets on a winner with Lance Armstrong." Knight Ridder Tribune Business News (July 29, 2002): 1.
Reilly, Rick. "Lance Armstrong: For his courage and commitment—not to mention his fourth straight Tour de France victory—SI salutes the ultimate road warrior." Sports Illustrated (December 16, 2002): 52.
Richburg, Keith. "Moving to the four; leg-strong Armstrong wins another Tour de France." Washington Post (July 29, 2002): D1.
Ruibal, Sal. "Once again, it's Tour de Lance." USA Today (July 29, 2002): C1.
Ruibal, Sal. "Tour course for 2003 OK with Armstrong." USA Today (October 25, 2002): C3.
Lance Armstrong Official Web site. http://www.lancearmstrong.com (January 15, 2003).
Lance Armstrong Foundation. http://www.laf.org (January 15, 2003).
Sketch by Brenna Sanchez
Sanchez, Brenna. "Armstrong, Lance." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900031.html
Sanchez, Brenna. "Armstrong, Lance." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900031.html
September 18, 1971 • Plano, Texas
Lance Armstrong is one of the most celebrated athletes in the world, making history in 2005 by winning the prestigious Tour de France bicycle race for the seventh consecutive year. But he is more than just an amazing cyclist with phenomenal endurance; he is also a survivor who has inspired millions of people around the world. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, and with the same fierce focus he brings to competition he tackled his illness and won. Since then, Armstrong has become a leader in the cancer community through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which focuses on educating the public about early cancer detection and raising money to find a cure for the disease that kills more than half a million people in the United States each year. As Bill Saporito commented in a 2004 Time article, "Given Armstrong's insane commitment to winning, cancer had better watch out."
Lance Armstrong was born on September 18, 1971, in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. His parents divorced when he was just a baby, and his mother, Linda, who was only seventeen years old when she had Lance, was left to raise her son alone. When Lance was three, Linda married Terry Armstrong, who formally adopted him. Linda and Terry later divorced, once again leaving mother and son on their own. Linda was devoted to her only child, and although money was tight she worked long hours as a secretary to make ends meet. Her determination and dedication proved to have a lasting impact on young Armstrong, who today credits his mother for instilling in him his drive and motivation.
Linda bought Armstrong his first bike, a Schwinn Mag Scrambler, when he was seven years old. He immediately began to ride it every day and soon proved that he was a natural athlete. In addition to biking, Armstrong took up running. When he was in the fifth grade he began running six miles a day after school, and soon was entering long-distance competitions on weekends. Armstrong also tried team sports like football, baseball, and basketball, but found that he was better at activities, like swimming, that required endurance. When he joined the local swim club, Armstrong would ride his bike ten miles to early morning practices, then pedal to school. After school he would jump back on his bike and ride ten miles back to the club to swim more laps.
"If you worried about falling off the bike, you'd never get on."
Barely in his teens, Armstrong was already competing in amateur cycling races. He also began to enter triathlons, contests that combine swimming, biking, and running—all of his favorite activities. At age thirteen, the skilled Armstrong took home the top prize at the IronKids Triathlon, which includes swimming 200 meters, cycling 6.2 miles, and running 1.2 miles. In 1987, when he was sixteen, Armstrong turned professional in the triathlon. Because of his amazing success, that same year he was invited to be tested by the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research in Houston, Texas. Researchers measured the amount of oxygen his lungs consumed during exercise and discovered that he truly was a phenomenon: Armstrong's oxygen levels were the highest the clinic ever recorded, which meant that his lung capacity, so critical for endurance, made him a natural athlete.
Although he was taking home top prizes as a triathlete, and raking in almost $20,000 per year by age seventeen, Armstrong's real love was biking. He began training with more-experienced riders and quickly rose in the amateur ranks of cycling. Armstrong drew so much attention that when he was a senior at Plano East High School he was approached by the U.S. Olympic development team and invited to train in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Going to Colorado for six weeks would mean that he might risk not graduating, but the opportunity was too tempting. After taking private make-up classes, Armstrong did graduate from high school on time in 1989.
Armstrong did not remain an amateur for long. In 1990, he became the U.S. National Amateur Champion. The following year Armstrong competed in the Tour DuPont, which covers 1,085 miles over eleven days, and finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, which was admirable given his young age. Later that year he won Italy's eleven-day Settimana Bergamasca race, and in 1992, Armstrong competed in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Although he came in a disappointing fourteenth, scouts and sports analysts predicted great things from the American newcomer. In 1992, when he turned professional, Armstrong was asked to join the Motorola cycling team.
Life as a professional cyclist was not without its speed bumps. In his first pro race, Spain's San Sebastian Classic, Armstrong came in last out of a field of 111 participants. Two weeks later, however, he wowed the racing circuit when he placed second in the World Cup, held in Zurich, Switzerland. Armstrong went on to have an impressive year in 1993. He earned the Triple Crown of cycling when he won victories at the Thrift Drug Classic, the Kmart West Virginia Classic, and the CoreStates Race, which is the U.S. Professional Championship. In July of that year, the young cyclist made his debut (first appearance) at the race that would make him a future celebrity, the Tour de France.
The Tour de France is a three-week, 2,287-mile race that takes place in twenty stages, with competitors winding through the French countryside and pedaling up and down steep mountain landscapes. It is considered to be the most prestigious cycling event in the world and is a grueling physical challenge. According to Mark Gorski, manager of the U.S. Postal Service cycling team who spoke with Thomas Sancton of Time, "The Tour de France is like running a marathon every day for twenty days. Very few sporting events are that demanding." The twenty-one-year-old cyclist, however, felt up to the challenge. Although he did not finish the race, Armstrong did win one of the stages, making him the third-youngest participant ever to do so.
In August 1993, Armstrong easily took the title of World Champion at the World Road Race Championship in Oslo, Norway. He was the youngest person, and only the second American, to hold the title. Over the next few years, Armstrong's star continued to rise in the cycling world. He placed high in race after race, and in 1995, he took home the prize from the Tour DuPont. That same year, although he came in thirty-sixth place, Armstrong finished his first Tour de France.
A different kind of battle
By 1996, the twenty-four-year-old Armstrong was at the top of his game: He won his second Tour DuPont, and he signed a $2 million contract with the French-based Cofidis racing team. A bout of bronchitis (a lung infection) forced him to drop out of the Tour de France in early summer, and a weakened Armstrong had a disappointing twelfth-place finish at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. By the fall of 1996, he was still feeling tired and weak. He complained of pain in his testicles, and when he began to cough up blood Armstrong became alarmed.
On October 2, 1996, just weeks after his twenty-fifth birthday, the young cyclist was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had also spread to his lungs, abdomen, lymph nodes, and brain. Doctors predicted a slim a chance for recovery—less than 40 percent. Armstrong, however, was not ready to give up. He read everything he could about the disease and changed his diet, giving up coffee, dairy products, and red meat. After consulting his doctors, Armstrong decided to forego the traditional treatment for brain tumors, which is radiation. Side effects from radiation can include a loss of balance and a scarring of the lungs, which would mean that he would probably never race again. Instead doctors performed surgery to remove the tumors, and then administered an alternative and aggressive form of chemotherapy.
Between rounds of chemotherapy Armstrong continued to ride his bicycle as much as he could, and he never lost his determination to return to professional racing. At the same time, he was on an emotional roller coaster. As he told Time in 1999, "I had the same emotions when I was sick as I have as a competitive athlete. At first I was angry, then I felt motivated and driven to get better. And then when I knew I was getting better, I knew I was winning." Armstrong's determination to win paid off when, in February of 1997, he was declared cancer-free.
Still physically and emotionally weak, Armstrong returned to training with a vengeance, but getting back on his bike proved harder than he imagined. His spirits especially dropped when he found out that his contract had been cancelled by Cofidis, who considered him to be a public relations risk because of his illness. Armstrong was fortunate to sign with the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, but his salary dropped from $600,000 (pre-cancer) to $200,000 per year. In his autobiography, Armstrong half-jokingly called his pay cut, "an 80 percent cancer cut."
Back in the game
By 1998, Armstrong was again a dominant force in the cycling world. He placed high in several competitions and won the Cascade Classic, the Rheinland Pfalz Rundfardt, the Spring 56K Criterium, and the Tour de Luxembourg. In the summer of 1999, Armstrong was once again ready to tackle the biggest of them all, the Tour de France. The fact that he was able to compete at all was amazing, but the world was stunned when it became evident from the very first day of the race that Armstrong was a strong contender to actually win.
In what many considered to be an awe-inspiring finish, Armstrong crossed the finish line 7 minutes and 37 seconds ahead of his nearest competition. He clocked in an average speed of 25 miles per hour, breaking the previous record set in 1998. He also cemented his role as a national treasure, becoming the second American ever to win the contest. As part of the U.S. Postal Team, he was also the first American to take home the prize while riding for an American-sponsored team.
Armstrong was happy with this win, but pushed himself for more. He went on to conquer every Tour de France over the next five years. And on July 25, 2004, he set a new Tour de France record by taking home the top prize for the sixth consecutive year. Tens of thousands of well-wishers, many waving American and Texas flags, gathered at both sides of the finish line to cheer on Armstrong when he coasted to victory. When he mounted the podium to accept his win, Armstrong's most important supporter, his mother, Linda, was by his side.
Tour of Hope
Lance Armstrong's two greatest loves are cycling and the fight against cancer. Both of these are combined in a unique event called the Tour of Hope, a 3,500-mile bicycling trek across the United States. The event was founded in 2003 by Armstrong, in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the pharmaceutical company that made the medicines used in the cyclist's cancer treatment. The goal of the event is to educate the public about the importance of early cancer detection, to raise funds for cancer research, and to show that there is hope for a cure.
In 2004, twenty riders participated in the eight-day relay that began on October 1 in Los Angeles, California. All of them had been touched by cancer in some way: Some were survivors, others were researchers or caregivers or patient advocates. Members of the team made pit stops in such states as Nevada, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa to share their personal stories and to communicate the importance of cancer prevention and research. On October 9, greeted by thousands of cheering supporters, the riders reached their final destination, Washington, D.C. When the tired but enthusiastic team members joined Armstrong at the finish line, he declared the journey a success. According to Armstrong, as quoted on the event Web site, "The Tour of Hope is over for these riders, but what will never be over is hope."
Sports analysts speculated whether or not Armstrong would try for a seventh Tour de France victory in 2005. At thirty-four he was a man in his prime, but as a cyclist he was decidedly middle-aged. In February 2005, however, all speculations were put to rest when Armstrong officially announced that he would defend his title, this time riding for the Discovery Channel cycling team. On July 24, 2005, Armstrong conquered the 23-day race for the seventh year in a row, finishing 4 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. As he stood on the winner's podium, Armstrong expressed his gratitude; he also revealed that he had completed his last Tour de France. As he addressed the crowd, he explained (as quoted on CNN.com), "I need a period of quiet and peace and privacy. I've had an unbelievable career. There's no reason to continue. I don't need more."
Race for a cure
Armstrong is certainly one of the most famous athletes in the world. In fact, according to a 2004 Sports Illustrated poll, he was voted the "All-Time Greatest Sportsman." His popularity, however, may have more to do with his life off of his bicycle. Armstrong is a devoted family man who has three children with his former wife, Kristin, to whom he was married five years. Since his bout with cancer, he has also become a symbol of hope for cancer survivors everywhere. According to Armstrong, in a quote that appears on his Web site, "Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me." Strange as that sounds, Armstrong claims that the disease had a "humanizing" effect on him. "Cancer is my secret because none of my rivals has been that close to death and it makes you look at the world in a different light and that is a huge advantage."
Since forming the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) in 1997, the Texas-based cyclist has emerged as a leading spokesman and activist in the fight against cancer. And because of its many fund-raising and education-based initiatives, the foundation has become recognized throughout the world. According to the official LAF Web site, Armstrong's belief is that "in your battle with cancer, knowledge is power and attitude is everything." The foundation carries out its mission through four program areas: education (providing information and resources); advocacy (representing cancer patients and survivors in Washington, D.C.); public health (after-treatment support); and research (in 2005 the foundation funded twenty research projects through grants totaling $3.3 million).
One of the most well-known LAF-sponsored events is the annual Ride for the Roses, which began in 1997. The cycling event, held in Austin, Texas, has grown bigger each year, expanding into a weekend full of activities, including a health and sports expo and a rock concert known as Rock for the Roses. The 2004 Ride for the Roses raised $5.5 million and drew sixty-five hundred cyclists, among them such celebrities as Armstrong's longtime acting friends Robin Williams (1941–) and Will Ferrell (1968–), as well as Armstrong's girlfriend, pop singer Sheryl Crow (1963–).
On October 2, 2004, to celebrate eight years of being cancer-free, Armstrong declared the day Livestrong Day. Five months earlier, in May, the foundation had the slogan imprinted on yellow rubber wristbands, and together with Nike launched the Wear Yellow Live Strong campaign. By the end of 2004, over twenty million people worldwide had purchased the bracelets, which sell for one dollar each. Profits go directly to raise funds for LAF programs. "I wear my Live Strong wristband every day," Armstrong revealed on his foundation's Web site, "I think the color yellow stands for hope and courage and inspiration, and that's why I'm never taking mine off." Whether or not he takes off his wristband, Armstrong will remain a symbol of survival. And, according to his Web site biography, "No matter what his path, he will travel it with the sure knowledge that every day is precious and that every step matters."
For More Information
Armstrong, Lance. Every Second Counts. New York: Broadway, 2003.
Armstrong, Lance, and Sally Jenkins. It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York: Putnam, 2000.
Murphy, Austin. "Seventh Heaven? Not Satisfied with Six Tour de France Titles, Lance Armstrong Will Return." Sports Illustrated (February 28, 2005): p. 21.
Murphy, Austin. "Why Lance Is Doing It Again." Sports Illustrated Online (February 23, 2005). This article is also available online at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/austin_murphy/02/23/lance.email (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Sancton, Thomas. "The Ride of His Life." Time (July 26, 1999).
Saporito, Bill. "Lance Armstrong: A Commitment to Winning." Time (April 26, 2004).
"Armstrong Is Crowned Tour Champion." CNN.com: World Sport (July 25, 2004). http://www.cnn.com/2004/SPORT/07/25/tour.armstrong/index.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"Armstrong Wants Peace and Privacy." CNN.com: World Sport (July 24, 2005). http://www.cnn.com/2005/SPORT/07/25/cycling.armstrong.ap/index.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"Lance Armstrong Biography." Kidzworld.com.http://www.kidzworld.com/site/p3667.htm (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Lance Armstrong Foundation.http://www.laf.org (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Lance Armstrong Web Site.http://www.lancearmstrong.com (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"My Way: Six and Counting for Armstrong." Cyclingnews.com (October 26, 2004). http://www.cyclingnews.com/riders/2004/interviews/?id=lance_armstrong043a (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Tour of Hope Web Site.http://www.tourofhope.org (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"Armstrong, Lance." UXL Newsmakers. 2006. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448700012.html
"Armstrong, Lance." UXL Newsmakers. 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448700012.html
Lance Armstrong (born 1971) will certainly be remembered for being an outstanding athlete and four-time winner of the Tour de France, but he will touch more lives through the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Race for the Roses charity bike ride, which raise money for cancer research and assistance.
A Good Mother
Lance Armstrong was born in Plano, Texas, on September 18, 1971. His biological father moved out when he was a baby, and he and his mother were on their own. When he was three-years-old, his mother was re-married to a man named Terry Armstrong. Terry Armstrong also formally adopted Lance. There was very little money, but his mother worked hard to provide him with a good life. When he was seven-years-old, she worked out a deal with the local bike store and bought him a Schwinn Mag Scrambler.
He was a child who like to do things on his own and in his own way. "I have loved him every minute of his life, but God, there were times when it was a struggle," his mother told the New Yorker. "He has always wanted to test the boundaries."
Armstrong was athletic from the beginning. He enjoyed biking and swimming but did not do as well with football. In the fifth grade he won a distance running race. A few months later he joined the local swim club where he quickly advanced. He would ride his bike ten miles to early morning practices, then ride to school, and ride back again to swim in the afternoons.
Armstrong Began Competing
As a young teenager, Armstrong saw an advertisement for a junior triathlon called IronKids, that combined biking, swimming, and running. Armstrong won and loved it. He began competing regularly in swimming, biking, and running events, sometimes separately and sometimes combined. In his mid-teens, his mother and Terry Armstrong divorced and it was just the two of them again.
In 1987, when he was sixteen-years-old, he was invited to the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas. The Cooper Institute was a leader in fitness and aerobic conditioning research. Armstrong was given a VO2 Max test to measure the amount of oxygen his lungs consumed during exercise. His levels were the highest ever recorded at the clinic.
At age sixteen, Armstrong became a professional triathlete. He became the national rookie of the year in spring triathlons, and both he and his mother realized that he had a serious future. Soon it became clear that he would become a cyclist. He began training with more experienced riders and was beginning to make money in races. He began traveling farther to races that were more prestigious. During his senior year in high school, he qualified to train with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and to travel to Moscow, Russia, to ride in his first international race.
After graduation in 1989, he was named to the U.S. National Cycling team and started working with Chris Carmichael who began coaching him. Through Carmichael he learned that winning races involved strategy and tactics, as well as strength and speed. In 1991, he became the U.S. National Amateur Champion. The following year he rode in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain, and finished 14th. Immediately following the Olympic games, he turned professional. He placed last in his first professional race, but two weeks later he took second place in a World Cup race in Zürich, Switzerland. A man named Jim Ochowicz, who signed him with the Motorola cycling team, was watching him.
Armstrong had a good year in 1993, winning ten titles. He became the 1993 World Champion in Oslo, Norway. He was also the U.S. PRO Champion and won a stage of the Tour de France, although he later was unable to finish the race. In 1994, he won the Thrift Drug Triple Crown. He was steadily making a name for himself in the cycling world.
In 1995, during the Tour de France, his friend and teammate Fabio Casartelli was killed during a high-speed descent. The team decided to keep riding in his honor after Casartelli's wife paid them a visit and asked them to go on. Once again, Armstrong won a stage in the race. That year he came in 36th place, and it was his first time to finish the esteemed race.
The following year, 1996, started out well. Armstrong won his second Tour DuPont and had several career victories. He signed a two million dollar contract with the French cycling team, Cofidis. He had a new Porsche and a new home in Austin, Texas. However, during the Tour de France he was forced to drop out after being diagnosed with bronchitis. He rode for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta, Georgia, but was disappointed with a twelfth-place finish.
Shortly after his 25th birthday he began coughing up blood. On October 2, 1996, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs, lymph nodes, and brain. The following day he underwent surgery to remove one of his testicles. "At that point, he had a minority chance of living another year," Craig Nichols, his principal oncologist told the New Yorker. "We cure at most a third of the people in situations like that."
Standard treatment for the brain tumors is radiation, but its effects can result in a slight loss of balance. "Not enough to affect the average person, but certainly enough to keep someone from riding a bicycle down the Alps," said medical oncologist Lawrence Einhorn in the August 9, 1999, issue of Sports Illustrated. "We chose surgery instead of radiation for Lance. It's slightly riskier, but he had only two tumors and they were in a position where a surgeon could get to them."
Armstrong also chose a non-traditional route for his chemotherapy. The usually prescribed drug, bleomycin, normally produces fewer side effects of nausea and vomiting. However, bleomycin also could slightly diminish lung capacity, so Armstrong was given ifosamide, "taking the short-term discomfort for the long-term gain," said Einhorn.
During treatment, especially between rounds of the chemotherapy, Armstrong kept riding his bike as much as he could. "Why did I ride when I had cancer?" Armstrong asks rhetorically in his autobiography, It's Not About the Bike. "Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense that it's absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six-hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace."
While undergoing chemotherapy, Armstrong began talking with doctors about launching a charitable foundation to raise awareness about cancer. He and some cycling friends also came up with the idea of starting a charity bicycle race around Austin, Texas, and decided to call it the Ride for the Roses. The Foundation began to give him a new feeling of purpose.
Love And Marriage
A month after his chemotherapy treatment ended, while he still had no hair, or even eyebrows, he met Kristin Richard at a press conference announcing the launch of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Ride for the Roses. She was an account executive for an advertising and public relations firm assigned to help promote the event, and everyone called her Kik (pronounced "Keek"). After the first Ride for the Roses was over, they began finding excuses to see one another. "I got to know Lance when he was standing on the edge between life and death," Kristen said in the December 16, 2002, issue of Sports Illustrated. "It was awesome to be part of. I felt he showed me the view from that cliff. That bonds two people. And if you get to come back from that edge, it changes your life. You never want to miss out on anything fun or beautiful or scary again." The two were married on May 8, 1998.
During the same period, Armstrong was attempting to make a comeback into cycling. His first attempts did not go well. He would tire easily and get depressed. "In an odd way, having cancer was easier than recovery—at least in chemo I was doing something instead of just waiting for it to come back," he wrote in his autobiography. It did not help his morale when he could not find a team to take him on. His previous contract with Cofidis had been renegotiated while he was undergoing treatment. He was considered a bad public relations risk. He considered himself very lucky when the newly formed United States Postal Service team accepted him.
Better Than Ever
In 1998, he became determined to overcome the difficulties and get back to riding competitively. In the last half of the year, he won the Tour de Luxembourg, the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfarht in Germany, and the Cascade Classic in Oregon. By 1999, he decided he was ready to try the Tour de France again. He spent the spring training in Europe through the Alps and the Pyrenees. The Tour de France is a three-week ride through the villages of France, up and down the mountains, with a new stage each day. He knew he would have to train hard to endure the strenuous course. The New Yorker reported "Armstrong now says that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him. Before becoming ill, he didn't care about strategy or tactics or teamwork—and nobody (no matter what his abilities) becomes a great cyclist without mastering those aspects of the sport." When the time came for the race, Armstrong was ready. He came out strong on the very first day. Soon he was wearing the yellow jersey that indicates the leader on a regular basis. He rode strong, all the way to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, winning the Tour de France on his first attempt after surviving cancer. Then, he won it again a year later. The following year, in the July 30, 2001, issue of Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly wrote, "Unless the Eiffel Tower falls on him, Armstrong will become the fifth man to win the Tour de France three times in a row." Sure enough, he won. Then, he did it again in 2002.
Cycling is a big part of Armstrong's life, but it is not his whole life. The Ride for the Roses has grown larger each year and has become an entire weekend event, including a rock concert called Rock for the Roses. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has grown to provide information, services, and support for cancer patients through education, research grants, and community programs. The 2002 Ride for the Roses raised $2.7 million and drew 20,000 people.
Armstrong says that having cancer completely changed the way he looked at life. "I thought I knew what fear was, until I heard the words you have cancer," he stated in the Buffalo News. "My previous fears, fear of not being liked, fear of being laughed at, fear of losing my money, suddenly seemed like small cowardices. Everything now stacked up differently, the anxieties of life—a flat tire, losing my career, a traffic jam—were reprioritized into need versus want, real problem as opposed to minor scare. A bumpy plane ride was just a bumpy plane ride, it wasn't cancer."
Armstrong and Kristen now have three children, son Luke and twin daughters Isabelle and Grace. They live in Austin, Texas, but also own a home in Nice, France.
"Lance Armstrong is more than a bicyclist now, more than an athlete," wrote Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated where Armstrong was named "Sportsman of the Year." "He's become a kind of hope machine."
Armstrong, Lance, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Thorndike Press, 2000.
Buffalo News, June 4, 2000.
New Yorker, July 15, 2002.
PR Week, October 14, 2002.
Sports Illustrated, December 16, 2002.
"Lance Armstrong Foundation," Lance Armstrong Foundation website,http://www.laf.org (January 30, 2003).
"Sportsman of the Year," Sports Illustrated,http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com (January 15, 2003). □
"Lance Armstrong." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404708147.html
"Lance Armstrong." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404708147.html
Lance Armstrong, 1971–, American cyclist, b. Dallas, Tex. He won (1991) the U.S. amateur cycling championship, turned professional (1992), and by the mid-1990s had won the Tour DuPont twice and was being hailed as the finest U.S. cyclist. In 1996, however, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which had spread extensively. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, he returned (1998) to cycling and reached the pinnacle of the sport with seven consecutive victories (1999–2005) in the Tour de France. He also won a bronze medal in the time trial at the 2000 Olympics. Armstrong retired in 2005, resumed his career in 2009, and retired again in 2011.
Accusations in 2005 that he had engaged in blood doping in 1999 were denied by Armstrong and disputed in 2006 by an International Cycling Union (ICU) investigation, which found no evidence to support the charges. Subsequently, additional accusations were made regarding Armstrong and his team, but he continued to deny the charges until 2013, when he finally admitted to doping. In 2012, after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said it had clear evidence of doping and released a detailed and extensive report covering the years of his Tour de France victories, the ICU agreed with USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his results since 1998 and bar him from the sport for life. In 2013 he was stripped of his Olympic medal.
See his memoirs (2000, 2003); D. Coyles, Lance Armstrong's War (2005); J. Macur, Cycle of Lies (2014).
"Armstrong, Lance." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-ArmstrgLa.html
"Armstrong, Lance." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-ArmstrgLa.html