Like many of you, I have been following the Lance Armstrong saga with mixed emotions. I alternate between sadness that such a larger than life image is being systematically torn apart, and incredulity that we are surprised by any of this. In the end, given how unbelievably dirty the sport of cycling seems to be, I don’t think we can hold Lance to any sort of a higher standard than we do anyone else. If everyone is dirty, and he just happened to be better than everyone else, then so be it.
But where things get tricky for me is when it comes to his Livestrong foundation, and what that has meant for millions of people diagnosed with cancer, or for their loved ones impacted by that diagnosis. (And yes, I have heard the rumors of gross mismanagement there as well.)
I put on a yellow LiveStrong bracelet for the first time in April of 2006. That was days after my diagnosis of a Myxoid Liposarcoma in my left leg. I haven’t taken it off since. Through many a dark moment during the hellatious 9 months of treatment that followed I found myself routinely and absentmindedly playing with it as if to remind myself of the message it contained. I vividly recall lying in bed after a much more difficult than expected surgery that required that I miss my niece’s Bat Mitvah, and just reminding myself of the message, and to get through. The next day would be a better day, and so would the one after that.
Over the years since, on many, many occasions, people would ask me about my bracelet and if I rode. I would just nod and smile, and say that no, it was the message that mattered. I never thought of the bracelet as a support for riding, just a support for the mission.
I was reminded of the conflict around the man, the message, and the sport this past week when a good friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:
As I read that, I was instantly awash with emotions from anger to sadness that it had come to this. Where does the message and the man diverge? Does it matter that he came to fame by cheating? Or does it matter more that he dedicated that fame and his considerable resources to shine a light on a segment of the population that could really use some light? Where do these things split apart? I never really cared that he was a cyclist that beat cancer. I only cared that he used his fame and wealth to try and provide support for others who were going on the same journey. Some like me who won, and many others who, unfortunately, did not.
This is what I commented back on my friends post (unedited):
In the end, you will make your own choice about the man, the message, and the foundation. I have made my choice.
My bracelet remains on.