Lance Armstrong — cancer survivor and Livestrong foundation progenitor, and seven-time Tour de France winner — is beyond his crisis. Speaking to 5,000 fans Saturday night at the University at Buffalo he came across as genuine, humble, fun and real.
Those words are not usually associated with the man whose competitive drives projected him as a sports samurai, for whom winning is the only thing. Used to seeing him pinned against a cycling team bus by 30 microphones thrust into his face prior to a Tour stage, the man on the stage at Alumni Arena seemed a metamorphosed butterfly compared to the creepy caterpillar of those televised scenes.
He’s reached the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. He managed his crisis.
Armstrong’s story is nothing short of remarkable. Surviving advanced testicular cancer — which he said the other night he delayed reporting despite obvious symptoms — that spread to his lungs and brain is a life achievement on its own.
Going on, starting three years after treatment, to win an unprecedented seven titles in one of the world’s most grueling endurance events is unique and stellar without the story’s first half. With it, Armstrong simply astounds us with how high the human mind, body and spirit soar.
But Armstrong lived a 10-year crisis. Few believed such astounding cycling achievements possible without performance-enhancing drugs. With Armstrong’s cycling peers over the years dropping one by one after positive drug tests, it stretched credulity to think Armstrong was pure. He’s always denied drug use. Former associates and friends said otherwise.
In February, a federal grand jury did not find enough evidence to indict, so Armstrong is officially cleared.
Fans want the pure story to win out. Recent moral and ethical collapses in sports make that seem unlikely, building our lust for good. We’ve watched the falls from grace of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, New Orleans Saints Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton, golf superstar Tiger Woods; and the drug use cases of Marion Jones, Alberto Contador, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and on and on.
The post-crisis Lance Armstrong projected relaxed appreciation for his opportunities and achievements. His talk, while surely honed over hundreds of deliveries, came across as warm, self-effacing and in the Q&A, spontaneous and magnanimous. Asked to rate his life achievements in order he listed father, cancer survivor and cancer foundation founder ahead of Tour winner. We want to accept that.
He mentioned his Saturday morning run along the Niagara River — later adding he had plantar fasciitis, a painful foot injury that would keep most of us on the couch. He expressed boyish curiosity and charm recounting his first visit that morning to Niagara Falls. He let a local triathlon coach beat him in a 50-meter kickboard fundraising race in the university pool. And he responded with gleeful embarrassment when a 12-year-old girl asked him about his autobiography and whether he’d ever thought he’d regain his fertility to father children.
Clearly, any questions about drug use Saturday night would have seemed unfair and out of context, even if one had eluded the UB censors. Wherever the truth lies, it was enjoyable to like Lance Armstrong and believe in him. The post-crisis Lance demonstrated the rewards of managing a crisis well enough to get beyond it.