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This Tuesday, standing before members of his beloved charity LIVESTRONG, Lance Armstrong announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the organization.  Amid continuing escalation over his alleged doping during his seven Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2007, Armstrong made the decision to "spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career". The Lance Armstrong Foundation, commonly known as Livestrong, was founded in 1997 to serve people affected by cancer. Since 1997, it has raised over $500 million dollars, with 82% or more of its funds going directly to education, grant, and advocacy programs for cancer survivors.

I became involved with Livestrong in 2004 when I had the opportunity to participate with thousands of other cyclists in the Ride For The Roses in Austin, Texas.  I personally met and rode with Lance on that unseasonably blistering hot day in October, and it was an experience I will never forget.  Not just because I personally rode and chatted with Lance, and later had him sign autographs.  Not because Lance had inspired me to be a strong cancer advocate in my own community, creating a non-profit and running a cycling event raising over $35,000 in four years.  It was because of a very special person who later became an important role model to children in my community.

RFTR2004
In case you're wondering, this is me riding with Lance in '04

Arriving in Austin the day before, I boarded the bus from the airport to our hotel.  While waiting to leave, I struck up a conversation with an energetic sixteen year old named Alex.  His excitement and enthusiasm were infectious, and I came to learn that Alex was a cancer survivor.  He was in Austin for the Ride For The Roses as the first ever recipient of the Livestrong Junior Spirit of Survivorship Award.

Photobucket

Diagnosed at age 12 with germinoma, a germ cell brain tumor that is a pediatric form of testicular cancer, Alex spent three years enduring eight brain surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, a relapse, a bone marrow transplant (BMT), and more chemotherapy and radiation.  And yet, no matter how tired he was, Alex walked the hospital halls encouraging fellow patients to walk with him. Inspired by Lance's book, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life , Alex had his Trek bike brought into his hospital room so he could ride each day. Alex went into his bone marrow transplant determined to set a record for the shortest hospital stay. He left the hospital in 23 days, breaking the record by two days.

Alex and I rode part of the long, hilly 100 miles in the unbelievably hot Austin countryside together.  It was a weekend filled with memories of meeting cancer survivors, hearing their stories, and celebrating their lives.  It was a personal accomplishment to ride an especially challenging course and finish it still intact, when grown men were collapsing on the side of the road in the heat.  And best of all, I had made a new friend.

I returned to Virginia, and promised Alex we would stay in touch.  The following spring, as I was making plans for the next charity cyclng ride, I learned that there was a 4th grade teacher from one of our local elementary schools who was going through chemotherapy and surgery for treatment of colon cancer.  Her students were really concerned about her, and saddened by her suffering. I thought they really needed cheering up, and I knew just the person to do it.

I invited Alex to fly out from his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to Lynchburg, Virginia for the cycling event.  I asked him to speak to an assembly of the students at the elementary school.  He and his parents gladly agreed.  When the day of the assembly arrived, the school gymnasium was filled with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, parents, teachers, and local media.  As this bundle of energy stood up to speak, the kids' eyes were riveted to the stage.  He shared pictures and anecdotes of his cancer story with the kids.  He answered their questions, surprisingly mature and frank.  And he left them with this quote from his Jr. Spirit of Survivorship Award acceptance speech:

"A Day Well Spent:  … imagine a world where everyone wanted to do this, live as if each day were their last, wanting to make a difference … these are the ways that I have decided to battle for my cause, cancer. For you a day well spent may be entirely different from mine but together we can fill the world with hope and happiness."  Alex Oden, Cancer Survivor

A few weeks later, the school principal called to tell me that she had some letters from the students for Alex.  I picked them up, collected them in an envelope, and mailed them to him.  Neither he nor I could measure the impact that experience had on these kids.  But one letter in particular may sum it up:

“I appreciate you coming to our school.  I think you are so cool.  I’m glad you survived cancer.  My Grandma had lung cancer and she died recently.  I enjoyed your speech about never giving up.  I learned no matter how hard your life is, never give up.”

Ashley

That was seven years ago.  Today, Alex is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, where he won three of Northern Arizona University’s most esteemed honors—the President’s Prize, the Gold Axe Award and the Distinguished Senior Award. Currently working on his Master's in Psychology, Alex has been a mentor and role model for the children in NAU community.  "Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me and my family. American society has become so focused on ourselves and on what we can get for ourselves. We have forgotten about the need to help.”  There is no doubt in my mind that Alex will continue to be a very, very special young man.

When I read the article this morning about Lance's resignation, I reflected on his life and career, his victories and defeats, his sometimes very personal stories, and his legacy for the cancer community.  I reflected on what his story has meant to me, to Alex, to the cancer survivors in Lynchburg, Virginia and all around the world, and to the children in that teacher's class.  What I realized is this:  

Dear Lance:

"Your impact on us far exceeds anything that you ever achieved on the bike.  By choosing to raise funds for Livestrong, I was able to combine a passion and a dream.  My love of cycling and my hope to make a difference in the lives of others has become a reality.   I want others to have hope, love, and support to save them the unnecessary sadness and anger that I experienced at the loss of my father to cancer.  Why? It’s the least I can do. And the best that you have done."   Lynn Miller, Cancer Advocate

We are all survivors in some sense of that word.  We carry with us the love of these persons, either in their presence or their memory.  You may not be able to see their smile or tousle their hair, but when those senses weaken, another heightens.  Memory.  Memory becomes your partner.  You nurture it.  You hold it.  You dance with it.  

Originally posted to VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Velocipede Vanguard and Mojo Friday.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you enjoyed the diary, and would like (41+ / 0-)

    to make a small contribution in honor of Alex, I have selected a local NC cancer charity, Wind River Cancer Wellness Retreats, to receive any donations.  They provide retreats and programs to teach survivors a variety of ways to deal with the emotional stress of cancer and improve their quality of life.

    You can donate here:

    Make sure to leave a comment that your donation is for Alex Oden.

    A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

    by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 12:33:34 PM PDT

    •  A comment from bicycling.com: (6+ / 0-)
      Posted by: awwsnap October 17th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      For the world to think that cheating to win was his idea, was his plan, it was him who bullied everyone into doing it, is a mindless idea. Please, get semantic.

      A world champion shot put thrower, C.J.Hunter was caught taking Nandrolone in competition a few years ago. Nandralone! A highly detectable (but relatively safe) anabolic.

      Now why would athletes at the top of their sports use such detectable substances?

      Cycling was in disarray in the ’90′s. It needed a hero to market the sport globally, more specifically to the USA (Now worth hundreds of millions/annum). Who better than an American cancer survivor.
      Lance was given the drugs. He was told to take them and he wouldn’t be caught. Either that or have no career (given his health complications).
      I hope he comes out and blows the lid on it all. However I think he’s too big of a man to do it.
      He’s put himself at the top for so long all for what…to help thousands globally fight what brought him down in the first place. He’s still the best in my mind.

      Shame on those who blame him. All very misguided.

      A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

      by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:55:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wind River Retreats says 'Thank You'! (5+ / 0-)

      I received a personal email from Shannon, the owner, and she sends a big Thank You!

      A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

      by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:06:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Awesome post, VV! (7+ / 0-)

    Please don't do this anymore when I am out of kleenex!  Paper towels are way too rough. ;-)

    Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink. - Lemony Snicket

    by Floja Roja on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:26:19 PM PDT

  •  Wonderful diary (8+ / 0-)

    You have me choked up with Alex's story.

    I have been a Lance Armstrong fan for years.  He's the reason we actually have professional level stage races in this country.  I personally don't understand why after all these years the USADA felt it necessary to investigate him, it smacks of a witch hunt.  When I read earlier this morning that Lance was stepping down from LiveStrong and was sad because it was built with the best of intentions.  I wish him well and hope his charity continues to thrive.

  •  Lance Armstrong (9+ / 0-)

    While Lance's work with his charity has been absolutely terrific, he was also just exposed as one of the biggest cheaters in the history of sports, one who will cause lasting damage to his entire sport.  Stepping down from the charity was the right thing to do  I hope he can still work with the foundation in whatever capacity he can to help them behind the scenes, but it is definitely time for a new public face.

    •  Sadly, NJI, there is no new public face. (7+ / 0-)

      Armstrong came along at a time when cycling was in turmoil, esp. in the US.  IMHO, he added more to the sport than he diminished it, considering the number of young men and women like Alex who chose to ride for so many different reasons.  

      A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

      by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:36:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  He is a cheater (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      carver, TexDem, VeloVixen, 4Freedom

      and in some ways the cycling controversies are what opened my eyes several years ago and has led me to abandon being a sports fan.

      Because I have come to realize, they are almost all cheaters,  is Lance Armstrong a bigger cheater when virtually every cyclist was doing drugs, the same kinds of things?  When baseball players, football players, runners, you name were all doing drugs?  How do you measure bigger when it is all?

      I don't think great athletes should have to cheat if they want to compete.  I would wish there were no drugs in sports.  I would wish that no teenager is ever encouraged to start drugs so they can move up.   I think its great if they do get sports cleaned up, if they think stripping Lance Armstrong of his titles is a way to clean it up (but who are they going to give them to that isn't a false show of virtue), so be it.

      But one of the biggest cheaters in the history of sports, as if only he were cheating, I don't buy that for a minute.  

      •  If you extend that even further (4+ / 0-)

        you can make it political or societal. Why do members of the GOP and Fox News feel it's perfectly alright to blatantly lie? Why do they feel it's perfectly alright to cheat in what ever method they can to win an election? I guess this is more of a question for a sociologist to ponder.

        •  you can take it way further (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TexDem, zinger99, VeloVixen, 4Freedom

          is it ok to cheat to win at anything, then of course lying is acceptable.

          And if it's ok to alter your body chemistry to win, what about gene enhancement therapy, don't like that fast twitch muscle proportion alter it?   Want to win a beauty contest, surgery, enhancements, etc. buy a whole new face and body.

          It goes to the roots of competition, is it necessarily good?

          People here keep raising the issue about capitalism, that it devours itself,  you can take it as far as you want.  If the system is corrupted, all the players will eventually be corrupted.

      •  There are many who stand to gain from Lance's (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TexDem, a gilas girl, 4Freedom

        demise.  Floyd Landis, a former teammate and known doper, has a whistle-blower case pending that would recover sponsorship money for the federal government (with a hefty prize for Landis as primary whistle-blower) over the Postal Service sponsorship, which totaled almost $32 million from 2001 to 2004 alone.

        As far as stripping Lance of his titles, many of them would go to Jan Ulrich, well known as a doper, so maybe not.  It would be very hard to find anybody to give the titles to that hasn't doped and been caught.

        I agree that it would be great to clean up sports from 'drugs'.  My son was routinely tested for 'drugs' as a track athlete in high school.  He was called into the principals office one morning after eating a poppyseed muffin for breakfast.  Does that make him a doper too?  Of course not.

        A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

        by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 03:21:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I guess (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          expatjourno

          you can  ridicule my decision to use the word drugs as opposed to actually listing various blood doping techniques, anabolic steroids, any number of other drugs which have therapeutic uses but can be abused not to treat disease but to enhance performance, etc.   But nowhere did I suggest that drug testing was perfect, that false positives don't occur,  etc.  Would you rather that high school coaches trying to make it to a college team based on the efforts of the kids were encouraging abuse of performance enhancing drugs and no one did anything about it, even knowing that testing isn't perfect?

          I clearly acknowledged that there would be no one in the peleton to give Lance's titles to,  doping was endemic, and has been for a long time.

          Landis is a lot less of a person than I once thought him to be.  I tried hard to believe he was clean the year he won the Tour, but eventually evidence has to take precedence over faith or wishes.  He is and has clearly been after money to replace what he lost for quite a while.  To the extent whistle blower laws exist, I am ok with that, long term I think they do more good than bad.

          Lance simply is not innocent but neither was he the only person to break the rules using performance enhancements. He rode while doping and beat a bunch of other dopers. For that reason I am pretty much of the opinion that it is actually meaningless and petty to strip him of his titles at this point.  

          But  that won't erase all the good he did and still does in the cancer community.  If he lost his titles then maybe every title from the Tour for at least the last 100 years should be revoked, too.  That's the problem with organized sports at a high level.  As the NASCAR people say "If you aren't cheatin', you aren't tryin'"  The system corrupts the participants and corrupt participants ensures the system remains corrupt.

          •  I don't think she was ridiculing your use of the (0+ / 0-)

            word drugs. But more of how "many" things can be caught under that label.

            •  The testing at the Tour (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              TexDem

              And UCLA's lab in the US for example is no superficial level of testing.  It is unlikely to mistake a poppy seed for something else.  I spent a lot of time reading up on the tests, at cycling boards etc where this was huge, papers published on the research, etc.

              •  The anecdotal story of her son is from 10 years (0+ / 0-)

                ago. That son is now a MD.

                I sure as hell hope the testing of athletes on an international level are more efficient than those performed by a HS 10 years ago. Her son was called to the office and explained to a very relieved Principal about his poppy-seed muffin.

    •  Did any of the top finishers NOT cheat? (0+ / 0-)

      You don't know if he was "one of the biggest cheaters" in biking, let alone in the history of sports. The people he was riding against might have cheated more, just with less success.

      If it was that easy for Armstrong to cheat all those years and get away with it, you'd better believe it was common practice, given the amount of money involved.

      And frankly, if it took cheating in a bike race to raise half a billion dollars for cancer victims, I think it was worth it.

  •  Thank you VeloVixen (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexDem, VeloVixen, Floja Roja, 4Freedom

    for a warm, sad, and very touching story and testimonial.

    "The American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon – it’s a relay." Julian Castro (DNC 2012)

    by bjedward on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:37:52 PM PDT

  •  Headed to vote and pickup my sweet girl (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexDem, 4Freedom

    (a corgi named Daisy) from doggy day camp.  Back soon!

    A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

    by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:16:12 PM PDT

  •  Post from a FB friend: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexDem, a gilas girl, 4Freedom

    As a cancer survivor I could care less what Lance Armstrong did or did not do in his races. I am forever in his gratitude for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. If any of you are not familiar with what all the Foundation does, get on the website. It will take your breath away what all it provides and accomplishes. Of course Lanceplanted the seed. It is the gazillions of volunteers who carry out the programs that are funded by the Foundation. I hope there is never anyone who won't support LA Foundation because of the nonsense going on with these bicycle races. If you want to see a real race, follow a cancer survivor around for a few days. Thanks for sharing the post Shannon.

    A veteran is someone who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for the amount of " up to and including my life". That is Honor, and there are too many people in America who no longer understand that.

    by VeloVixen on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 03:29:11 PM PDT

  •  the cause is the thing (6+ / 0-)

    Livestrong does so much good - free help of all kinds for people with cancer, and they just added spaces for people to be able to get free in=person counseling at the HQ.

    The rest of the story..... what broke my ability to care was George Hincapie. The guy who absolutely everyone says - and has always said - is the good guy, not the best rider, but the best guy in cycling. When he confessed his involvement, and when they're taking away 3rd place finishes from Levi Leipheimer in 200_ and giving that to some guy who wasn't tested that day like the podium finishers were, I knew this wasn't about doping. I don't know what it is, but it is about totally cleaning house. I mean - a 3rd place finish 5 years ago, that's beyond caring about doping.

    Anyway, I'd be at the Ride on Sunday if it wasn't the same day as the AIDS Walk. I proudly support Livestrong.

  •  Great story, VeloVixen. It is sad about Lance. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexDem, VeloVixen

    So much good undone by some bad judgments. Yet the work he has help put together continues to do good things for many.

    A very perplexing situation with this complicated athlete!

    There are many adoptable cats and dogs being rescued around the country. You can save a life by adopting one.

    by 4Freedom on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 12:01:33 AM PDT

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