shouldn’t tarnish his legacy of the Livestrong Foundation
Lance Armstrong has admitted that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to win his seven consecutive record-setting Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Lance has been stripped of his titles by the governing body of the Tour de France, as well as the bronze Olympic medal he won in the 2000 Olympics by the International Olympic Committee.
The International Olympic Committee said in a statement, “There can be no place for doping in sport and the IOC unreservedly condemns the actions of Lance Armstrong and all those who seek an unfair advantage against their fellow competitors by taking drugs. This is indeed a very sad day for the sport, but there is a positive side if these revelations can begin to draw a line under previous practices.” Moreover, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned Armstrong for life from competing in sanctioned cycling events.
Armstrong’s surprise admission, made to Oprah Winfrey in a televised interview, regarding his use of banned PEDs to win all of his Tour de France titles not only disappointed millions of his fans, but also dismayed officials of the Livestrong Foundation. Armstrong started the foundation to provide support to people facing cancer and to provide healthy lifestyle advice to anyone who visits the website.
The Livestrong Foundation said in a statement, “We at the Livestrong Foundation are disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us. Even in the wake of our disappointment, we also express our gratitude to Lance, as a survivor, for the drive, devotion, and spirit he brought to serving cancer patients and the entire cancer community.” Lance had previously resigned from the board of directors of the foundation he started when the USADA banned him for life from competitive cycling events.
But while the story of Armstrong’s admission of cheating will no doubt define his professional life as an athlete, it shouldn’t define his entire life as a person. What Armstrong did to cheat his way to victory should never be condoned, but what Armstrong has done to help cancer victims should never be diminished by this tragic fall from grace.
To be sure, Armstrong is a flawed man who let the desire to win control everything he did to the point of cheating to gain a competitive advantage. But as is so often the case with many human beings, a flawed character does not define the entire person. One only has to look at President Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the House of Representatives, but cleared in a trial by the Senate, for lying about an affair he had with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. President Clinton not only went on to serve out his term with a record of robust economic growth and a budget surplus but, since leaving office, he has become one of the most revered people around the world for the work he has done through the Clinton Foundation and thie Clinton Global Initiative to bring business and government leaders together to work on global issues, from preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa to spurring economic development in impoverished countries.
Like so many people, Lance Armstrong battled cancer and he beat it. But instead of just being grateful for the second chance he received, he decided to use his celebrity status to start the Lance Armstrong Foundation—Livestrong—the mission of which is to help anyone facing the challenges of dealing with cancer.
The Livestrong Foundation is also part of who Armstrong is as a person. Lawrence Einhorn, MD, is the doctor who treated Armstrong for advanced testicular cancer, which had metastasized to his brain, liver, and lungs, where he had 10–12 golf ball-sized tumors. He was quoted in USA Today, saying of Armstrong, “Virtually 100% of my cancer patients all feel that he has done far more good than any damage he’s done.” He went on to say about Armstrong, “I’ve always told him for many, many years that his legacy is going to be his legacy as a cancer survivor and what he’s meant to the cancer community.”
And, indeed, it should be. When Armstrong resigned from Livestrong on October 17, 2012, he said in a statement: “This organization, its mission, and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart. Today, therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship. As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors.”
The work of the Livestrong Foundation includes raising the level of awareness about the fight against cancer by the wearing of yellow wristbands with the word LIVESTRONG emblazoned across the band. The wristbands not only raise money for cancer research and support for its victims, but it has alsobeen one of the most visible reminders people see in their daily life. There have been over 80 million Livestrong bracelets sold to date for $1 each.
And while many people have taken to online blogs and Internet sites to comment about Armstrong’s admission of doping, some have focused on his contribution to fighting cancer and supporting its victims. One Facebook poster on USA Today said, “I am not a cycling fan, but I’ve been affected by cancer and I am grateful for his work with Livestrong. The bracelet stays on.” Another online poster said, “While I think Lance Armstrong’s cheating (and then lying about it) is despicable, we have to give the man some credit where it is due. Regardless of your beliefs on the man’s honesty/morality, he and his Livestrong organization have done tremendous things for cancer and the world of cancer research. They are an organization that uplifts and supports people who need it the most. While I have completely lost any respect for the guy athletically, we cannot take away from Livestrong’s accomplishments either.” And, those comments have been echoed by public figures as well. Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom said it best via Twitter: “Sports is not life and death…but the work @lancearmstrong does for cancer research and cancer victims is.”
Armstrong started his foundation in 1997 as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which is now known as the Livestrong Foundation. The Livestrong Foundation says that its mission is “to inspire and empower” cancer survivors and their families. The motto of the foundation is “Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything.”
The Livestrong Foundation provides free one-on-one support to anyone who is affected by cancer, stating: “Want to talk to someone about your situation? LIVESTRONG is here to help. We provide free, confidential, one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer—whether you have cancer or are a loved one, friend, health care professional or caregiver of someone diagnosed.” The budget of the foundation in 2011 was $36 million.
The Livestrong Foundation provides a wealth of information on its website on food, fitness, health, diet and nutrition, diseases and health conditions, family health, living well, weight management, nutrition facts, and sports and recreation and it hosts a fitness library to help people meet their fitness goals.
The reading material on the website is both extensive and relevant to anyone interested in living a healthy life. Links show what people are reading on the site, e.g. The 20 Best Foods in Your Grocery Store, The Fit Fridge: 10 Foods That Make You Healthier, Are You Sabotaging Your Sleep, The Five Most Overrated Exercises, and How Coffee Could Improve Your Health. These are just some examples of how the website offers practical daily advice to live a healthier life.
But the website goes beyond simple health and fitness. There are articles on travel, leisure, money and relationships, and quick links designed to create healthy habits, such as the link to “20 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Life.”
For those struggling with the impact of cancer on their lives, there is a wealth of information to deal with a variety of concerns, including:
- Accessing medical treatments and medical devices
- Finding assistance for the uninsured or underinsured
- Finding assistance with insurance denials/appeals
- Handling debt and financial management issues as they pertain to a cancer diagnosis
- Learning about resources for financial assistance
- Handling employment discrimination/retention issues
- Applying for federal/state programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, disability, etc.
There is probably no better place on the Internet to gain such a wide variety of information for people dealing with the impact that cancer can have on a person and his or her family.
The Livestrong Foundation provides more than simple access to information. It is also focused on motivating people to change their lives to become healthier. There are several programs offered under the headline “Dares” that are designed to make you take responsibility for the changes you want to make in life: “Dare to Lose Weight,” “Dare to Quit Smoking,” and “Dare to Track Food Daily.” In addition, the foundation offers free newsletters, one for men and one for women.
Yes, Lance cheated. No, he no longer can be looked upon as a model for sports excellence. But that is not the sum of his life. President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace after the infamous Watergate tapes showed that he was involved not in the break-in to the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, but in the cover-up, which was a felony. However, a fair assessment of Richard Nixon’s presidency is that it cannot be defined by Watergate alone. President Nixon brought an end to the Vietnam War, opened up China to Western diplomacy and trade and created the Environmental Protection Agency to protect our air, land and waterways, from harmful pollution.
Some people can’t look beyond Watergate when judging President Nixon as both a president and a person, and some may never be able to look beyond the way Lance Armstrong cheated his way to win his Tour de France titles. So be it, for those people. However, Lance Armstrong has been more visible and has done more than anybody else in the world of sports to carry the fight against cancer to Main Street and offer a place for people to get help with no charge.
Lance Armstrong’s legacy, as well as the legacy many others in cycling, will be that of a cheater. Lance Armstrong’s legacy to those who have been victimized by cancer will be that of a champion.