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.
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
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 travelling 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
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
Standard treatment for the brain tumours 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
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
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."
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This web page was last updated on:
18 December, 2008