If you’ve never heard the name Lance Armstrong, you must have been living under a rock for the last decade. Winning the prestigious Tour de France bicycle race for the seventh consecutive year in 2005 made Armstrong one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. But if this is no easy feat on its own – imagine winning all of these races after recovering from testicular cancer – this is Armstrong’s story and this is why he is a champion on two fronts.
Picture to the right: “David Gerstein Armstrong Bike Rider Free Standing Sculpture”
Lance Armstrong was born on September 18, 1971, in Plano, Texas, near the major city of Dallas. His parents were divorced when he was just a small child, and his mother, Linda, who was only seventeen years old when she had Lance, was left to raise her son on her own. When Lance was three, his mother married Terry Armstrong, who adopted him. Later, Linda and Terry were also divorced, and Linda was once again a single mother. Lance often credits his mother for instilling in him the drive and motivation that makes him such a champion.
When he was seven years old, Linda bought Armstrong his first bike. It was a Schwinn Mag Scrambler. When he was in the fifth grade, Lance began running six miles a day after school, and soon was entering long-distance running competitions on weekends. Armstrong also tried team sports like football, baseball, and basketball, but found that he was better at activities which require much endurance. When he joined the local swim club, Lance would ride his bike ten miles to practices early in the morning and then pedal to school. And after school he would jump back on his bike and ride ten miles back to the club to swim more laps.
At age thirteen, Armstrong took home the “If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on.” top prize at the IronKids Triathlon, which includes swimming 200 meters, cycling 6.2 miles, and running 1.2 miles.
In 1987, at age sixteen, Armstrong turned professional in the triathlon. In the 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 found that Armstrong’s oxygen levels were the highest the clinic ever recorded, which meant that his lung capacity, critical for endurance, made him a natural athlete.
In 1990 Lance became the U.S. National Amateur Champion. In the next year he won Italy’s eleven-day Settimana Bergamasca race, and in 1992, he competed in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He came in 14th place, and immediately turned professional.
Throughout the next few years Lance dominated in the world circuit.
But on October 2, 1996, just a few weeks after his twenty-fifth birthday, tragedy hit. The young cyclist was diagnosed with testicular cancer which had also spread to his lungs, abdomen, lymph nodes, and brain. Doctors predicted a less than 40% chance for recovery.
Well, the champion read everything he could about the disease and changed his diet, giving up coffee, dairy products, and red meat. After consulting his doctors, Armstrong opted to forego the traditional treatment for brain tumors – radiation. Instead doctors performed surgery to remove his tumors, and then administered an alternative and aggressive form of chemotherapy.
Between rounds of chemotherapy Lance continued to ride his bicycle as much as he could. On February of 1997, he was declared cancer-free.
Being dropped by his former sponsors just pushed Armstrong harder upon his return to the circuit – he eventually won the Tour de Luxembourg. And then went on to be victorious in every Tour de France over the next five years. On July 25, 2004, he set a new Tour de France record by taking home the top prize for the sixth consecutive year.
He formed the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) in 1997. He has emerged as a leading spokesman and activist in the fight against cancer. Because of its many fund-raising and education-based initiatives, the foundation has become recognized throughout the world.