In mid-January, Lance Armstrong admitted that he doped throughout his career, in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey. For much of his cycling career, Armstrong faced allegations of doping and he persistently denied taking any doping, until this interview. Since then, I have seen much of the public focus on whether he deserves to be forgiven. After all the cheating, lying, and hurt he has caused others, is Lance Armstrong worthy of forgiveness?
I have worn a LIVESTRONG wristband since 2004 — the same year the LIVESTRONG Foundation launched the bracelets. They became very popular that year, becoming somewhat of a fashion trend. But that’s not why I decided to get one. I discovered the story behind the wristbands: a famous cyclist and cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong, had founded an organization that sold the bracelets in an effort to raise money for people affected by cancer. My grandma died from cancer and so I wanted to help people suffering from the disease; I believed in the fundraising efforts driven by the sale of the wristbands. I also believed in the message they display: live strong. We all go through difficult times in our lives and it’s important to stay strong.
In 2004, the LIVESTRONG Foundation sold the wristbands mainly in packs of 10 or more. I noticed that my Grade 11 math teacher, Ms. Bechbache, wore one. I decided to ask her where she got it and whether it was possible to buy only one. The next time I saw her, she gave me a brand new packaged LIVESTRONG wristband as a gift.
Ms. Bechbache was the type of teacher who leaves a lasting impression on her students. She wanted to ensure everyone understood the concepts she taught. She was willing to stay during lunch and after-school hours to help students with their work and I never saw her complain about it. I felt flattered when she gave me a LIVESTRONG wristband. And I felt happy that we both believed in the message and the meaning of the bracelet.
* * *
At age 25, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer which spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. During his treatment and before his recovery, he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997, now known as the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG website says that since Armstrong founded the foundation, it has raised more than $470 million to support its mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer.
Like most people who looked up to Armstrong, I was very disappointed to find out he had doped when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. Throughout the recent highly publicized doping allegations, and while he still denied them, I defended him when I heard people claim that he probably doped. I debated with those who didn’t believe his denials and wrote lengthy posts on Facebook supporting Armstrong, arguing that he would not disappoint his fans by cheating. I supported him naively . . . until he admitted that he had cheated and lied. I felt disappointed and embarrassed that I had blindly stood up for him.
But as time passed, I saw the bigger picture. Armstrong has accomplished much in his life through his humanitarian efforts. It’s not all about the bike. His failure to be a model athlete should not overshadow, in my opinion, his more meaningful accomplishments. He has helped people through difficult times, including people he will never know.
* * *
About a year after Ms. Bechbache gave me the LIVESTRONG wristband, I found out that she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
I wanted to do something nice for her, to help through her struggle. I knew that she supported the LIVESTRONG Foundation, since she liked to wear her wristband, and so I decided to get her Armstrong’s autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. It’s an inspiring book about his fight and triumph over cancer. I signed the book, writing that I wished her a speedy recovery. I also found many of my former classmates from her course and asked them to sign it too.
I knew it would be difficult to give the book to Ms. Bechbache, since she was undergoing treatment and did not teach at the school anymore. However, with the help of a friend, I discovered where Ms. Bechbache’s daughter worked and I went to give it to her. I told her that her mom was a very special person and that my classmates and I wanted to give her the book as well as our best wishes.
Several weeks later, my physics teacher told me that someone had called from the office and I should go see them in the school’s library. When I went, I saw Ms. Bechbache. She had come to visit and wanted to thank me for the book. She looked very frail; the cancer was taking its toll on her. I hugged her and said I hope she gets better soon. That was the last time I saw her. Two years later, I found out that she had died.
When I look at my wristband, I think of the person who gave it to me. I remember wanting to help her through her fight against cancer; I remember getting Armstrong’s book for her, hoping it would inspire her to keep fighting. I don’t know, and perhaps never will know, whether the book gave her comfort or inspiration. But knowing that I got it for her brings me comfort in knowing that I did something nice for her during the struggle. I couldn’t exactly relate to what she was going through and I didn’t know what advice I should give, but through Armstrong’s story I felt that I could give her inspiration.
When I look at my wristband, I also think of the countless people around the world who have been inspired by the LIVESTRONG message, either to help conquer cancer or to help others in their fight. That is what the bracelet means to me.
Throughout the last couple of weeks, after Armstrong admitted to doping, several people asked me whether I will continue to wear my wristband. My reply: Yes. My bracelet carries a message about hope, strength, survival and loss. My disappointment in Armstrong has not changed that message.
As for whether he deserves forgiveness for his trespasses . . . that depends on you. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. For me, Armstrong’s biggest accomplishments are in his humanitarian efforts — off the bike. It’s easy, in a time when a man’s great sins come to light, to forget all the good he has done and the people he has helped.
Ultimately, I hope Armstrong will learn from his mistakes. And I hope he will find in this time of remorse that continuing his humanitarian work will lead him down the right course.