An Open Letter to Lance Armstrong

Armstrong powers to his fourth stage victory in the 1999 Tour de France  Credit: Doug Pensinger /Allsport
Dear Junior,

So, you went and won that big bike ride in France, the touring deal where you race every day for a month or some such nonsense. The reason I know this, Lance, is that I tried to call you today from our little Colorado getaway (the local pay phone; no TV, newspapers or phones here) and found that your number had changed. I thought this a bit odd and tried your mom, Linda. No esta en casa, either. Hmmm, I thought. Then I tried an e-mail, and that came back undeliverable, too.

And then, quite by accident I picked up a 2-day-old newspaper and read that "on his way home from winning the Tour de France, American Lance Armstrong will stop by the White House to visit the President."

Holy smokes, dude! No wonder I couldn't get through. Hey, I could come on up to D.C. and help ya put the olprez through a couple of hill repeats.

Actually, Lance, the truth is I have followed your cycling career ever since you dropped Mark Allen and I on a San Diego training ride in 1989 when you weren't even old enough to buy us a beer.

Though I would never admit it in public, I have watched you every step of the way, bragging to anyone who would listen that "I knew Junior when his mom took him out of woodshop at Plano High School to drive him to a local triathlon."

And when you started to do well in cycling, I bragged even more. "Lance isn't pro cyclist folks; he is just a former triathlete who is temporarily sidetracked."

It's funny, isn't it? When I tried to explain to my daughter what you had accomplished, and reminded her that you had tried to get her to say the word "Lance" before she ever said "mama" or "dada," well, how can anyone really understand what you have done?

How can anyone who has never had to deal with cancer even come close to comprehending the accomplishment that now stands behind you?

You know, Lance, to me it doesn't matter that you won the Tour de France, or that you were victorious in four stages of the race. And it doesn't really matter if you never win another bike race the rest of your life, though I know that will not be the case.

No, what matters to me is that you grew, you matured, you became your own man, all while staring death in the face and telling it to go to hell. If you never had to face that beast, would you be the same person? Who knows? It's irrelevant, eh? The Man tossed you a challenge, a big, foreboding and nearly insurmountable hurdle. And He said, "Jump, Lance. Don't let that snake get a grasp on your life. Your spirit.

And when we all heard the news, it was like, "Wow, that could have been me." But it wasn't, and you sprung with a sense of grit, determination and calm mobility so that even the most cynical person had to say, "Well maybe. But he won't race again, that's for sure."

I don't know if I told you, Lance, but The Man threw that same curve ball at my dad, and I'll be damned if that ball didn't start at third base and end up in the home team dugout. And dad fought the good fight, battling the Big C for a year and a half. In the end it took his body but not his soul.

You, my old friend, have both in such proportions that you have no choice but to share them both. A task, I am proud to say, you have embraced with the same panache that put you on the podium in Paris in July.

When I finally did get a chance to watch you being interviewed on TV, damn it Lance, you made me cry. There I was, sitting with a whole crowd of gearheads, discussing wheel size and peleton tactics, and your mug comes on the screen, serious but serene, intense but insightful.

Man, it was all I could do to keep the tears out of my beer mug.

An hour later, I found myself out for the second long run of the day. How could that be? I was starting to think I was over this triathlon thing. I really didn't need to train and race my whole life. But then again you didn't either. But there was something that you found out about yourself on a bike seat, something that you learned about a crazy world while recording mile after painful mile.

And heck, if my hero, the 15-year-old kid from Plano High School, can make people all over that world sit up and take notice, make them know that life does offer second chances, make them believe that anything is possible why the hell would I want a real job?

So, Mr. Big Shot, when you come back down to Earth and get through with your "duties" as Ambassador to Texas, come on back to San Diego. Mark and I want a rematch. And tell your mom she did a good job raising your punk ass.

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