It is about so much more than the bike – In defense of a hero

I was never one to worship celebrities or have a hero growing up, but in the most desperate of times, I found my hero – Lance Armstrong. Shortly after Les, my husband, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 26, we were searching for inspiration. We needed to know that someone else, relatively healthy and in the prime of their life, had faced cancer and had come out stronger. We read Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, and found the hero and the inspiration we needed for the fight ahead. Watching Lance ride up those mountains in the Tour de France gave Les the motivation to keep going – to get back to residency, get back to a life free of cancer treatments, and back to a life full of possibility. Seeing Lance on the podium with his kids, conceived through IVF after cancer treatments, helped me believe that Les and I would one day have children, in spite of the toxins that were taking away my husband’s fertility.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation was an amazing source of information and assistance to us as we navigated through cancer treatments, a clinical trial. and issues of survivorship after cancer. The foundation even sent Les an autographed Sports Illustrated to Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital while he was undergoing a stem-cell transplant. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised over $500,000,000 to date and their services have touched millions of cancer patients, families, and friends. After Les was finally in remission. we continued to be inspired by Lance Armstrong. We made a commitment to give back to the foundation that helped us in our time of need. We bought road bikes and started cycling. We even got to fulfill a dream of going to see Lance win his 7th Tour de France title. We witnessed 2 stages in the Pyrenees and the final ride around the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Les just rode in his 5th Livestrong Challenge. Thanks to the generous support of our friends and family, we have raised almost $50,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation in the past 6 years. As you can probably tell, we are big fans of Lance Armstrong.

Although we admire Lance as an athlete and as one of the world’s leading cancer advocates, we never thought he was perfect or without flaws. Doping allegations have swirled around him for 20+ years, despite being one of the most tested professional athletes in history and never having a failed test. If you have ever watched a mountain stage of the Tour de France live, or even on television, you start to get an idea why doping is so rampant in the event and in the sport of cycling. The Tour de France is arguably one of the most physically demanding, almost impossible, endurance contests on the planet. It seems like the majority of the professional cyclists in the Lance Armstrong era have either been accused of doping or have actually tested positive. I can see why some people believe that he probably doped – guilt by association. If you watched Lance fight from behind on a mountain stage during any of his Tour victories, you can see why some people suspected that he was too good to be true. Lance on a bike in his prime was one of the most amazing athletic specimens on the planet. He trained harder and smarter than other riders and had some incredible physiological traits that could have given him an edge. The University of Texas Human Performance Laboratory determined that Lance has a heart that is approximately 30% larger than that of a sedentary person with a resting pulse rate of 32 beats per minute, a lower rate of lactic acid production, better muscular efficiency, and longer than average femurs. When you combine his legendary intense training and unique physiological characteristics, with the sheer grit and determination of someone who has beaten cancer – maybe he really was that good. I can see how so many can believe that.

Even if I were to concede that Lance may have doped at some point, HE NEVER GOT CAUGHT. He never had a positive test, despite an aggressive and coordinated attempt to catch him with countless surprise drug tests, manipulated samples, and the harsh spotlight of the International cycling community. Do you think the French, or the other heavyweight cycling countries, were covering up for the brash Texan that kept beating them at their own race? I don’t think so. It is not like the International Cycling Union or World Anti-Doping Agency were turning a blind eye to doping either. Alberto Contador and Floyd Landis have both been stripped of their Tour de France titles for testing positive to banned substances. Plenty of other riders have tested positive during Lance’s career, but Lance never did. If Lance did use performance enhancing drugs or methods, the organizers of the Tour de France, UCI, WADA, and USADA certainly have not been able to prove it with any real evidence over the past 15 years. Maybe Lance was on the cutting-edge of doping, using substances or methods that could not be detected yet by the tests. If so, I don’t think you can find him guilty because you would have to go back and apply the same standard to everyone else that was racing at the time and probably using the same undetectable substances or methods. I have heard many comparisons between the case against Lance and the accusations against baseball players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I disagree that these cases are similar at all. Yes, they both involve a heap of testimony (true or not) by fellow athletes, but the baseball players were never tested for performance enhancing drugs, so that circumstantial evidence (and the visual differences in how those baseball players looked, possibly due to steroid use) is all there was. All I know is that one of the most tested athletes in history (with over 500 tests, in and out of competition) never failed one. In a sport with too many failed tests to count, the clean drug test record of Lance Armstrong should count for something. It should speak for itself.

Even though the Justice Department closed a two-year investigation into doping allegations because of a lack of evidence, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) decided to move forward with doping charges. The CEO of USADA, Travis Tygart, seems to have some sort of personal vendetta or score to settle with Lance. The USADA should have been pretty busy with the London Olympics and testing all of the US athletes, but instead they decided to undertake a full blown witch hunt against a retired American cycling champion and admired cancer advocate. Despite receiving over 65% of their funding from the federal government, the USADA maintains non-profit status that allows it to investigate and prosecute athletes with a much lower burden of proof than what would have been required by the Justice Department. The USADA does not have to afford athletes the constitutional and due process protections you would expect to find when making a potentially career-ending accusation. In other words, there is no “innocent until proven guilty” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof when it comes to the USADA proceedings. Travis Tygart and the USADA were essentially able to act as the prosecutor, jury, and judge in this case against Lance Armstrong. The so-called evidence they have against Armstrong is circumstantial at best, and much of it likely comes from known liars and admitted dopers in the sport. Lance argues that he was not even able to see the evidence against him, even with repeated requests. How can you fairly represent and defend yourself if you are not even allowed to see the evidence? The actions by the USADA feel like an incredible injustice. It offends me as a taxpayer, a cycling fan, a cancer advocate and spouse of a survivor, and a Lance fan.

Even if you choose to ignore the fact that there are no failed drug tests during Lance Armstrong’s record 7 Tour de France wins, or any failed drug tests ever, and STILL believe that Lance may have used performance enhancing drugs and/or methods – SO WHAT????? Who cares? What good does it do to publicly try to take down this figure that did so much for cycling, the Tour de France, and most importantly, for cancer? How does this sham of a case against Armstrong help to clean up the sport of cycling? How does trying to strip Lance of his titles and his earnings on such weak evidence really help anyone? Maybe in bringing Lance down, the accusers think it will assuage their own guilt in using performance enhancing drugs. Perhaps Travis Tygart believes that delegitimizing Lance’s success will somehow legitimize his own position and maybe afford him financial and political gains. I don’t know what the point of any of this is, but I do know that if anyone was thinking about the greater good, they would have just left well enough alone. Why couldn’t they just leave Lance Armstrong alone? After all, I can’t think of another athlete that has done more good with their fame and accomplishments than Lance Armstrong.

Lance’s victories were about more than just winning a race. They were about overcoming obstacles and doing something that had not been done before. Lance is more than just a hero. Many kids and adults admire professional athletes, musicians, or actors. Rarely do these stars inspire the type of response that Lance Armstrong does. Lance’s story is an American story – of hard work, determination, and beating the odds to succeed. He would have been a hero to cancer patients and survivors just for beating cancer and winning one Tour de France. Winning seven in a row was just raising the bar to aim higher and dream bigger. Even without the Tour wins, his two books, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and Every Second Counts, are inspiring and helpful to many people facing cancer or other difficult life circumstances. The work of the Lance Armstrong Foundation lives on and the Livestrong message is a beacon of hope to millions around the world. If you or someone you love are ever affected by cancer, you can benefit from the work of this amazing foundation that Lance Armstrong started. The foundation and the Livestrong message were so helpful to us during our time of need, and we will continue to support and raise money for Livestrong. The Livestrong legacy is bigger than the bike, bigger than the Tour de France titles, and certainly bigger than one incredible man. Some fights are not worth fighting, and I wish USADA had realized this and seen the bigger picture instead. Thankfully, Lance did.

For Further Reading:

Lance Armstrong official statement

USADA’s Travis Tygart plays prosecutor, jury, and judge in Lance Armstrong Case

I still believe in Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong vs. USADA: What are we to believe?

Lance Armstrong Doping Campaign Exposes USADA’s Hypocricy

Thanks a lot, USADA – Lance Armstrong faces the loss of his seven Tour de France titles

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