Lance Armstrongs’ is a story perfect for a Hollywood script, the stuff dreams are made of.
As if surviving testicular cancer and returning back to competitive racing was not astonishing enough, Armstrong performed another miracle by winning the Tour de France seven (yes, seven!) times in a row from 1999 to 2005.
Armstrong, a gifted athlete, started out as a triathlete when he was young and was also a swimmer during his school days, though he later chose to focus on cycling, as he felt he was a natural at it.
He was never good at football as he did not have the required hand- eye co-ordination for the sport, he says in his book ’My journey back to life’ published in 2000.
During the early part of his cycling career in high school, Armstrong was considered exceptional for a rookie racer, as he developed a reputation for winning races involving far more experienced and professional racers.
After establishing himself on the rookie circuit, Armstrong was selected for the United States’ 1992 Barcelona Olympics’ racing squad, where he could not make much of an impact as he finished 14th overall.
Armstrong turned professional after the Barcelona Olympics and joined team Motorola.
Armstrong’s first professional race was at the San Sebastian Classic in Spain, where he failed miserably and finished last. Armstrong later confessed in his book that after San Sebastian, he almost was on the verge of quitting the sport after being thoroughly demoralized.
Nevertheless, he decided to continue, after realizing that amateur and professional racing were two different levels of racing altogether, and he needed to train even harder to keep up with the high level of competition in pro-racing.
His first major success was at Zurich a few weeks later ,where he bounced back from the San Sebastian failure to finish 2nd. Armstrong says that he relied on pure instinct in that particular race and paid no heed to team orders to ride safe and conserve energy, blazing away from start to finish.
Other successes followed too, like winning the World championships in Oslo and making it to the 1996 Atalanta Olympics team.
Armstrong switched teams from Motorola to Cofidis the same year after signing a new professional contract with the French team.
Tragedy struck, when Armstrong was diagonised with testicular cancer in October 1996 and his career as a professional racer looked to be over. Cofidis cancelled their contract with Armstrong leaving him as a free agent.
He was operated on by famous neurosurgeon Dr Scott Shapiro (now his close friend) after the cancer had reached an advanced stage and reached Armstrong’s brain. Armstrong had to endure numerous tests and chemotherapy sessions before the surgery, and credits his mother Linda and Shapiro himself for being his pillars of support.
Armstrong was successfully operated on and after some final rounds of chemotherapy and tests was declared to be cancer free.
When Armstrong announced his comeback into professional racing , people wrote down his chances of performing at the same level he once used to.
But, Armstrong found an unlikely ally in the form of the United States Postal service team, who helped him in his quest of returning back to the professional circuit.
The rest as they say is history, as Armstrong produced what would undoubtedly remain one of the sporting world’s greatest comebacks, tasting Tour de France glory for seven successive seasons.
Though, he retired from professional racing in 2005(after winning his seventh and final title), Armstrong was actively involved in helping raise cancer awareness during his post-retirement days and also raised money for cancer patients through ‘Livestrong’ wristbands which were a huge success.
Armstrong made a comeback to professional racing in 2009 with Team Astana, and though could not win the Tour that year, finished third overall.
The 2010 Tour was to be his final one as Armstrong officially retired from the sport and announced henceby that he would only race in the States’ domestic circuit with Team Radioshack.
Armstrong’s book ‘It’s not about the bike’ was a huge success, and there were also some controversies during the fag ending of his career, which involved doping charges leveled against him (They were later found to be untrue after Armstrong went through a series of medicals and tests) and his fallout with another racer, former US Postal team mate, Floyd Landis, who accused Armstrong and other top riders of doping (instead it was Landis who was found guilty of doping and was subsequently banned from the sport).
Currently, Armstrong is actively involved with ‘Livestrong’ (his own organization that helps people with cancer) and also takes part in charity marathon and cycling races to help gather funds for the cause.
Lance Armstrong will always remain a beacon of hope and inspiration for millions of people the world around and will always have his own special place among Cycling’s greatest.