Give up, or Fight Like Hell: Story of Lance Armstrong



"When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: Give up, or Fight Like Hell."

On October 1996, Lance Armstrong was in the list of the world’s upper class racers. He had won The World Cycling Championship. He also won the US National Road Race Championship with the longest distance ever set in the history of road race, and he had just signed a two-year contract to support the prestigious French team for 2.5 million US$, but then on October 2, he suddenly turned into a patient of cancer.

Early that week he vomited a lot of blood and found his testis enlarged to the size of an orange. Doctors revealed a testis cancer which had spread to the lungs and brain. An emergency surgery but than they admitted his life expectancy was actually only 3%.

But Lance was never a man who gave in easily. Raised by a hand-working mother in a modest outskirts of a town in Texas, he learned bicycle race since his younger age raced triathlons at the age of 15 and soon won medals and prize money. 20 miles of daily cycling and swimming trainings became a break-through for Lance. “If I cycle on to some distant along this way, ‘he thought’, it might lead me out of this place”.

Lance was known as a persevering and defiant racer, a character taken after his mother. Once his mother, seeing him so exhauster and nearly dropped himself during the last lap of a triathlon race, urged him : “my son, you must not stop…..even if you have to walk”. Lance finished the race, right t the finish line.

For Lance, cancer was some kind of race-but this time, it was a race against time. Lance faced his illness just like he raced on his bicycle. He underwent a singer to remove the tumor, followed by months of chemotherapy treatment. For the first time, the racer with the highest aerobic capacity (according to a lab research conducted throughout the country), found his bones so weakened as to render him unable to pedal his bicycle even for a short distance around his house. 

But while the illness weakened him physically, the ordeal just strengthened him spiritually. At the end of his chemotherapy treatment he found his cancer had miraculously gone! Slowly he returned to his cycling training and he then realized the cancer had given him a blessing in disguise: he felt a new love of bicycle. Before that, a bicycle was to him just “a device to serve a purpose…..a potential resource to gain wealth and fame”. But now bicycle became the symbol of his magic spell after his suffering of cancer. “If I still can move, it means I am not sick”.

What was more surprising, the cancer had also ridded him of his weight excess, something that had seen his handicap as a racer. Lance was recognized before as a great one day racer but was not that great in stage race which could last for days or weeks and demands the capability of racing uphill along mountainous area, a true test for those hoping to be world class racers. He had done Tour de France one time only while in other years he had to drop off by fatigue or accidents. Coaches and team mates warned him he had excess body weight for steep uphill racing, but Lance felt sure he could rely on his strength to force himself uphill in spite of his burdening excess weight.

Now, recovered from cancer, he weighed 58.5 kg and that was 6.3 kg less than he weighed before on his previous racing days. So it was when he was ascending the training track of Blue Ridge  Mountain - racing on and on uphill that he felt some change going on in him. He eventually was ready to go to top of becoming the world’s best racer-in all championships, in whatever fields and conditions.

This awareness brought him to Tour de France 1999. In the first time trial he succeeded in getting the maillot jaune, a yellow t-shirt which the leading racer in entitled to wear. Although the yellow shirt had to be handed over to other racers along the race, he soon was able to get it back again when reached the toughest point-high on a hill under a cold rain-Lance just sprinted on pushing forward farther widening the distance between him and his foremost pursuer.

When his competitors reached the finish line in Paris, Lance was already there 7 minutes and 37 seconds earlier, an undisputable superiority. He reached the finish line as a winner along with another victory: his wife was declared pregnant through vitro fertilization after cancer rendered his infertile. 

Lance won Tour de France successively in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, but he wrote : “The fact is, if you asked me to choose between winning Tour de France or cancer, I would choose cancer…..for what it had given me as a human being, a man, a husband, a son and a father”. While fighting his cancer, he defeated life’s greatest enemy : failure. He rejected the prediction that he would not get well, because he cherished a hope. He had confidence-in his courage-for the take of his failure and his ownself - to overcome any doubt.

Lance beautifully summed it up: “I know now why people are so afraid of cancer, it is because cancer is torturingly slow and fatal, and that is the very definition of cynism and spirit loosing”.

“That’s why, I believe”.

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