I've read Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike” several times before but I was looking for a book to read last week, and had nothing new so I picked it off my bookshelf. He’s obviously been in the news a lot lately, and I wanted a refresher on his story.
I’ve said it each time I read it – and I’ll say it again now: go read this book. My copy is tattered and worn, from my own use and because I’ve loaned it out to so many people over the years. It is a book about Lance and cancer and cycling and strength and weakness and fighting. But it’s mostly a book about hope and courage.
The book is absolutely FULL of inspiring quotations, and lines that you just want to commit to memory. One of my favorite passages (lengthy but good):
Those questions, Why me? What are my chances? were unknowable, and I would even come to feel that they were too self-absorbed. For most of my life I had operated under a simple schematic of winning and losing, but cancer was teaching me a tolerance for ambiguities. I was coming to understand that the disease doesn’t discriminate or listen to the odds – it will decimate a strong person with a wonderful attitude, while it somehow miraculously spares the weaker person who is resigned to failure. I had always assumed that if I won bike races, it made me a stronger and more worthy person. Not so.
Why me? Why anybody? I was no more or less valuable than the man sititng next to me in the chemo center. It was not a question of worthiness.
What is stronger, fear or hope? It’s an interesting question, and perhaps even an important one. Initially, I was very fearful and without much hope, but as I sat there and absorbed the full extent of my illness, I refused to let the fear completely blot out my optimism. Something told me that fear should never fully rule the heart and I decided not to be afraid. – Lance Armstrong, It’s not about the bike
There are also stories of incredible acts of humanity and kindness. Like when Lance found out that due to an expiring contract and his new contract not taking effect yet, that he was inbetween in no-mans-land of no health insurance (news that he got just days after his cancer was diagnosed). Anyway, one of his sponsors, Oakley, not only didn’t yank their monetary support, but when the health care provider balked, the CEO picked up the phone and said that if Lance wasn’t given coverage, that their entire firm would take their business elsewhere. Oakley, Nike and Giro paid his contracts in full – every single one – even though they could have terminated.
It’s interesting to read his love story with his former wife, Kristin, because though they went on to have three children together, they eventually split up and seem to have some friction.
All this to get to my secondary point: did Lance use drugs? The evidence says yes, other cyclists say yes, and I think, well, he probably did use performance enhancing drugs. But I can’t say with absolute certainty because I wasn’t there and I don’t know him. But I do believe that Lance Armstrong as a person is so much bigger than cycling and the Tour and the yellow jacket. The most important parts of his story are about cancer research and inspiration and hope. I was reading an article recently that I think summarized my POV beautifully:
When it comes to evaluating the deeds of a fellow human, I try to avoid making broad generalizations. Instead, like an accountant, I base my opinions on an analysis of one's perceived assets and liabilities.
By my accounting, the amount of good that Lance Armstrong has brought to this world still outweighs the amount of bad. I believe he has the potential to get beyond this scandal and to deliver untold benefits to millions of people in the years ahead.
And, I guess, to tie both the book review and my opinion of his doping scandal up in one line: it's not about the bike.