American cyclist Lance Armstrong is retiring after this year's Tour de France. VOA's Derek Dombrowski takes a look at Armstrong's journey to the top.
Lance Armstrong has been a professional athlete for over 20 years, but now that career is almost over. He put a name and face to a sport that, previously, received very little attention outside the cycling community. Before this Tour de France, Lance Armstrong set a record-breaking six career wins, all consecutively.
He started his career as a tri-athlete at the early age of 13 and quickly excelled. After training with the U.S. Olympic development team during his final year of high school, he decided to focus only on cycling. By 1996, he was ranked the number one cyclist in the world. But in October 1996 he was forced off his bike and into the hospital. After complaining of terrible pain, he was soon diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Armstrong recalls his diagnosis. "It is very difficult the first few days; I mean to hear that news, when of course you don't expect it all, it is a big moment in your life, a very pivotal one."
With a less than a 50 percent chance of survival, Lance Armstrong started aggressive chemotherapy treatment. He researched different treatment facilities and recruited physicians to help treat him.
"I approached fighting cancer just like I was trying to win a bike race,” said the cyclist. “I put together a great team, researched the best options, went the places that made me feel the best."
Lance Armstrong's complete recovery from cancer is seen by many as miraculous. He finished his treatment cancer-free, and has stayed that way. Many projected that he would never race again, and that the cancer would effectively end his athletic career.
But, he decided to get back on his bike and continue where he left off. It wasn't as easy as he thought. In 1998, in a cold and wet race in Paris, he pulled to the side of the track and quit. He soon realized that he was not ready to race yet, and decided to take time off to retrain.
In 1999, Lance Armstrong came back to racing, renewed and retrained. He placed highly in races he competed in. But he had his eye on one race in particular, the Tour de France. Entering the race was a victory in itself, but Armstrong went on to win the race. He entered the Tour de France again in 2000 and won again, and has won every year since.
"Nobody ever wants to say or wants to think that they're the luckiest person in the world, but I was at the front of the line when they were handing out the luck I think," said Lance.
Through the years of training and winning, Lance Armstrong gave his free time to cancer advocacy, creating the Lance Armstrong Foundation, just months after his diagnosis. The foundation raises money for education, advocacy, and scientific research.
The foundation, however, became well known from the yellow "Live Strong" bracelets that quickly became a piece of popular culture. The foundation has sold nearly 50 million bracelets worldwide to date, many to young people looking to help in anyway they can.
"There’s often the feeling there's not really much you can do as a teenager but it’s just one thing you can do to show your support in a small way," said one bracelet wearer.
Lance Armstrong is beloved by so many sports fans, and after overcoming cancer and winning the Tour de France a record number of times, he is ready to retire.
He recently announced, "At the same time, I have decided that the Tour de France will be my last race as a professional cyclist. So July 24th, will be the last one. After more or less 14 years as a professional, it will be the last one win or lose. Having said that I am fully committed to winning a 7th Tour."
So, the end of this year's Tour de France will mark the end of a spectacular career. For millions of people around the world Lance Armstrong has been an inspiration and his accomplishments, both professional and personal, will not soon be forgotten.