American cyclist Lance Armstrong has become an inspiration to millions around the world, an inspiration that is as diverse as the people who admire his accomplishments. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the legacy of the seven-time Tour de France champion.
Cancer survivors cling to hope because of Lance Armstrong. Athletes of all abilities have drawn strength from Armstrong's cycling victories to push themselves to higher goals. Charities and other fundraisers have modeled programs after Armstrong's successful cancer foundation. But there was nothing in his early cycling career that made him stand out. Armstrong had limited success as a professional cyclist in the early 1990's. He rode in four Tour de France events, finishing the race just once in 1995. And suddenly his career, and perhaps his life, appeared to be nearing an end in 1996.
"On Wednesday, October 2nd (1996), I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The catscan revealed that my condition has spread into my abdomen," Mr. Armstrong says. "For now I must focus on my treatment. However, I want all of you to know I intend to beat this disease. And further I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist."
Armstrong's testicular cancer had also spread to his lungs and brain. While doctors feared the disease would kill him, Armstrong fought back and made an amazing return to health and cycling. He entered the 1999 Tour de France with only one goal -- winning the race. His training was relentless. While virtually every other rider took time off to rest during the year, Armstrong kept peddling. He focused on each individual stage, especially the grueling mountain climbs through the French Alps and Pyrenees.
His strategy proved so successful that the race was essentially over by time the Tour moved out of the mountains. Armstrong maintained his distance from the pack year after year. Rather than try to catch him, potential rivals waited for his legs to falter. They waited for a catastrophic fall to eliminate him. Some waited for a positive drug test to disqualify him. But they waited in vain. For seven straight years, Armstrong remained on his bike and charged up the mountains without a serious challenge.
Although he made a triumphant farewell to cycling Sunday in Paris, Armstrong is not ready to ride into the sunset and disappear from public view. His manager, Bill Stapleton, explains.
"There is going to be a major motion picture about Lance's life," he says. "There are longtime sponsors who are going to stay involved. And I think his work with the Discovery (cable TV) Channel is going to keep him in front of the American public. And then most importantly his foundation, and all the things he does for cancer survivors throughout world. That will keep Lance in a place where people still want to hear what he has to say."
Armstrong has indicated he will be active with the Discovery Channel cycling team, helping and training younger riders to reach elite levels. Armstrong says he may even consider a career in politics with a possible run for the governor's mansion in his home state of Texas.
Whatever he decides to do after winning an unprecendented seven Tour de France titles, Lance Armstrong's list of inspiring achievements will likely grow much longer in the years to come.