Cyclist Lance Armstrong's win in the 1999 Tour de France was one of the most amazing comeback stories in sports history. Only the second American to win the sport's most coveted prize, Armstrong's win came after he had successfully battled testicular cancer that had metastasized into his lungs and brain.
In this compelling book, Armstrong recounts his battle for survival and the transforming effect of facing a potentially deadly illness. He paints an unflinching self-portrait, describing his fall from the persona of a cocky, world-class athlete, seemingly indestructible, to a man helplessly facing his own mortality.
Armstrong's story begins in Texas, where he grew up as an outsider in a football-crazy Dallas suburb. Raised by a determined and loving mother, who was just 17 when he was born, Armstrong never knew his biological father and rejected his stepfather's attempts to serve as a father figure. Small in stature, but possessing an incredible level of endurance and stamina, he began competing in triathlons as a teenager. Before long, he was concentrating exclusively on cycling.
Armstrong had become an international cycling champion by October, 1996, when his world fell apart. Diagnosed with testicular cancer, he learned within days that the cancer was spreading quickly.
Aided by family, friends, and supportive doctors, Armstrong explored the options available and chose a rigorous course of surgery and chemotherapy. He details in grim terms the agony and desperation he felt while undergoing treatment for cancer.
Even after the long recovery process was seemingly complete, the French media proved to be as much of an opponent as any of Armstrong's fellow Tour de France cyclists. The year before, a doping scandal had rocked the event, and French newspapers insinuated that Armstrong's recovery was a little too miraculous.
But winning the Tour de France, amazingly, wasn't the highlight of Armstrong's year. His wife Kristin gave birth to their son Luke in the fall of 1999, the closing chapter in a storybook year.
The word survivor is often used pejoratively in the world of athletics, but Lance Armstrong really is a survivor - a survivor who plans to defend his Tour de France title this year, and then go for an Olympic gold medal in Sydney.
Shelton Clark is a writer in Nashville.
Lance Armstrong: facing cancer, fatherhood, and the future
Hoping to repeat last year's Tour de France win, Lance Armstrong is currently in France training for the three-week, 2,300-mile bike ride around the circumference of France. He recently answered questions for BookPage.
BookPage: You have proven you can win races. You have proven you can beat cancer. What is left for you to prove?
Lance Armstrong: First of all, I didn't "beat" cancer, I survived it. Nobody beats cancer. It's a very tough, very humbling disease and it doesn't discriminate. You can do everything your doctor tells you, eat all the right foods, and still die from it, while the guy who smokes and doesn't listen to his doctor is somehow spared. I was very, very lucky. As far as what's left for me to prove, there are plenty of things. I'd like to prove I can win the Tour de France again, and be a consistent champion. But I'm just as interested in the more open ended questions. I'd like to prove I can make a real difference with my cancer foundation. And I'd like to prove I'm a good husband and father.
BP: Do you still feel part of the cancer community? Is it more important for you to get on with your life and your racing - or to offer encouragement to other cancer patients?
LA: Once you are a part of the cancer community you never leave. It's not a matter of getting on with my life - cancer is part of my life and always will be. Why would I walk away from the most important thing that ever happened to me? I really believe that whatever my life is today, I owe to cancer. There's no question in my mind that I wouldn't have won the Tour without the cancer experience, because it made me a tougher and more patient cyclist. I think I'm a better person overall because of it, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more responsible.
BP: When you were diagnosed with cancer, you sold your expensive car and felt a need to simplify your life. Do you still feel that need?
LA: Well, obviously not, since I have a new Porsche on order. The reason I sold my old one was because I didn't have any health insurance, and I thought it would take every dime to pay the medical bills. Since my recovery, I've let myself have some expensive things again. I love acceleration, in any form. The Porsche is just a matter of pure, decadent, self-indulgence.
BP: Do you think your experience with cancer contributed to a closer than usual bond with your own son, Luke?
LA: I just think cancer taught me not to take fatherhood for granted. I really feel like he's a miracle baby. For a while there I wasn't sure I would be able to have a child, because the cancer treatments had left me sterile. We had to use the in-vitro method. So it's hard not to feel he's a real gift. My wife, Kristin, calls us her "two miracle boys."
BP: Since you did not have a father figure in your own life, who are your role models for being a father?
LA: Growing up, I saw more examples of what not to do. For instance, I won't hit my son. How old are kids when they start screwing up, eight? Ten? Old enough to have a conversation. When he messes up, I'm going sit him down and talk about it. As far as good examples, I have a wonderful father-in-law. Also, I have some dear friends who are great examples, for instance my friend and longtime coach, Jim Ochowicz, who taught me a lot about how to win races. But the best example of parenting I ever had was my mother. She was enough.
BP: What traditional elements of fatherhood do you want to instill in your own family? For example is father's day a holiday you want to stress or downplay?
LA: I'm not sure how traditional Luke's early childhood is going to be. For one thing, we travel a lot, so he has to be portable. We take him everywhere. We spend half the year in Austin and half the year in France, and when we're in France I'm away a lot racing, which is hard. The big challenge for me right now is how to spend as much time with him as possible and still train and race. I've already changed in some ways in order to be a traditional father. For the first time in my life, I've turned off the phones. The main thing I want is to be there for him.