Every time I win another Tour, I prove that I'm alive--and therefore that others can survive, too. I've survived cancer again, and again, and again, and again. I've won four Tour titles, and I wouldn't mind a record-tying five. That would be some good living.
But the fact is that I wouldn't have won even a single Tour de France without the lesson of illness. What it teaches is this: pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.
To me, just finishing the Tour de France is a demonstration of survival. The arduousness of the race, the sheer unreasonableness of the job, the circumnavigation of an entire country on a bicycle, village to village, along its shores, across its bridges, up and over the mountain peaks they call cols, requires a matchless stamina. The Tour is so taxing that Dutch rider Hennie Kuiper once said, after a long climb up an alp, "The snow had turned black in my eyes." It's not unlike the stamina of people who are ill every day. The Tour is a daily festival of human suffering, of minor tragedies and comedies, all conducted in the elements, sometimes terrible weather and sometimes fine, over flats, and into headwinds, with plenty of crashes. And it's three weeks long. Think about what you were doing three weeks ago. It feels like last year.
The race is very much like living--except that its consequences are less dire and there's a prize at the end. Life is not so neat.
There was no pat storybook ending for me. I survived cancer and made a successful comeback as a cyclist by winning the 1999 Tour, but that was more of a beginning than an end. Life actually went on, sometimes in the most messy, inconvenient, and un-triumphant ways. In the next five years I'd have three children, take hundreds of drug tests (literally), break my neck (literally), win some more races, lose some, too, and experience a breakdown in my marriage. Among other adventures.
When you walk into the Armstrong household, what you see is infants crawling everywhere. Luke was born in the fall of 1999 to Kristin (Kik) Armstrong and me shortly after that first Tour, and the twins came in the fall of 2001. Grace and Isabelle have blue saucer eyes, and they toddle across the floor at scarcely believable speeds. They like to pull themselves upright on the available furniture and stand there, wobbling, while they plan how to make trouble. One of Isabelle's amusements is to stand up on the water dispenser and press the tap until the kitchen floods, while she laughs hysterically. I tell her, "No, no, no," and she just shakes her head back and forth and keeps laughing, while the water runs all over the floor. I can't wait for their teen years.
Luke adds to the bedlam by riding his bike in the living room, or doing laps in a plastic car, or tugging the girls around in separate red wagons. He is sturdy and hardheaded. He wears his bike helmet inside the house and refuses to take it off, even when we go out to dinner. We get some interesting stares--but anything is better than the fight that ensues if you try to remove the helmet. He insists on wearing it just in case he might get to go cycling with me. To him, a road is what his father does for a living. I'm on the road so much that when the phone rings, he says, "Daddy."
One afternoon I went to pick my family up at an airport. Luke gave me a long stare and said, "Daddy, you look like me."
"Uh, I look like you?" I said.
"Are you sure it's not the other way around?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. It's definitely you that looks like me."
Also milling around our house are a cat named Chemo and a small white dog named Boone. I trip around all of them, watching my feet, careful not to step on a critter or a kid. It's been a chaotic few years, and not without its casualties. There have been so many children and adults and animals to feed that sometimes things get confused and the dog winds up with the baby food. One day Kik handed me what was supposed to be a glass of water.
Excerpted from Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins Copyright © 2003 by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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