June 2000

A survivor’s uphill battle

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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.

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