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Jonathan Agin

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Living Strong

Posted: 07/03/2012 3:12 pm

I am, and have been an ardent supporter and fan of Lance Armstrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) for quite some time. I have never met Lance and have no personal relationship with him. I watched as he won the World Champion road race, I saw all seven victories unfold in the Tour de France, and I was truly excited to see his return to the world of triathlon racing, and ultimately what should have been his debut in the Hawaii Ironman World Championship this fall. I have been more impressed though with his battle against cancer and all that his brand has done to bring the disease out of the shadows and into the forefront of our collective conscious. I have been a supporter of the Livestrong movement and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) for many years. Each and every day, I wear the yellow wristband. I do not blindly follow this movement, or the man; I do so through an acute amount of inspiration.

On April 11, 2008 my then-two-year-old daughter Alexis was given a death sentence with an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer. It is a disease that unfortunately so many of us have been touched by. Uninvited, unwanted and existing as a ticking time bomb, cancer would now take up residency as part of our everyday lives. And so, one of the first places I could think to reach out to was the LAF. Years before that horrible day in 2008, I read Lance's first book, It's Not About the Bike. It inspired me, and I immediately sent a copy to my mother for inspiration in her battle with multiple sclerosis. That's what Lance has meant to so many battling all types of diseases. In my mind, the LAF is so quintessentially linked to cancer that it was only normal to seek assistance and information there.

Lance has inspired legions of those who have been provided with horrible news in the form of a diagnosis with cancer. His brand has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to battle the dreaded disease. He and the LAF have provided hope for so many patients and families as they face their own battle. And so, news of the latest attack on Lance's credibility as an athlete and human being has not set well with me, and I trust that is true with many other cancer families who have gained support through the LAF. Recently, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced its plans to proceed with an investigation into whether or not Lance utilized performance enhancing drugs during the course of his professional cycling career. This announcement proceeded despite the failure of a federal investigation to pursue the same charges, and despite the failure of any investigation to ever prove the allegations. I am not on the inside of the investigation, and I do not know Lance in the least. I have followed the evidence and the conduct of the USADA and I personally do not believe that he utilized performance enhancing drugs or that the investigation should proceed. Little has been done by the USADA to allow due process to apply to the investigation.

I am worried about the impact upon the cancer community that each passing attack presents. This is something that the USADA, a publicly funded quasi-governmental agency, has not considered in its overzealous prosecution. An attack upon Lance, and the LAF by virtue of his leadership of the foundation, could result in a loss of donations and sponsorships, ultimately impacting the good work done by the foundation. As someone who runs a chapter of another foundation in the Washington, D.C. area, it is patently obvious that it is through the private sector and private foundations that the greatest strides are made against cancer. Federal budgets for medical research have been slashed and in some instances scientific progress is being blocked due to ideological issues. Thus, we have to depend upon the generosity of private donors and the private sector to continue innovative cancer research. Accordingly, the fallout from the USADA's attack could have a farther reaching impact than simply to investigate whether Lance utilized performance enhancing drugs.

The cancer community will survive and continue to fight, and I am hopeful and certain that the LAF will continue to improve the lives of individuals diagnosed with cancer. The battle against cancer is certainly larger than one man or one foundation. Nevertheless, any damage done to the LAF will certainly have an impact upon cancer research, support and the disease globally. And thus, the USADA may be indirectly impacting the manner in which we privately battle cancer.

I remember watching the prologue of the 2009 Tour de France with my daughter Alexis. Deep into her battle with cancer, we both watched Lance take off on his comeback. I pointed him out to Alexis and explained his story. How much stuck with her and what she understood, I do not know. Alexis was an incredibly smart little girl. I asked Alexis if she thought she could ride a bike faster than Lance and beat him. Without hesitation, Alexis answered that she could. That was typical Alexis. Her tenacity has inspired me beyond any single individual, and she truly is my hero. At some point shortly thereafter, I reached out to someone at the LAF again, and we received a postcard in the mail signed by Lance. In the postcard there were words of support and encouragement for her battle. At the end, the last sentence was one of hope. It said something to the effect that one day, Alexis would be able to say that she beat cancer and that she could beat Lance. She lost her battle in January 2011 but she never stopped fighting. The disease of cancer took her from us. My wife and I have resigned ourselves to continue our daughter's amazing fight. I will continue to be inspired by Alexis, Lance and all those who were diagnosed with this killer and who fight on despite sometimes facing perilous odds.

And so, I hope that the USADA reconsiders its position and inquest. Certainly the money could be spent in more useful pursuits such as cancer research. I do not wish to suggest that the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sport is unimportant. Rather, I believe that in this instance it is an old story without any credible substantiation despite millions of dollars being spent to arrive at a different result. The battle against cancer survives beyond the LAF and Lance. That is for sure. With such an advocate as Lance though, there is the ability to put the disease in the forefront, and that's what could be lost should the USADA's reckless witch hunt continue. Seriously, enough is enough already, let us actually win the war on cancer begun so many years ago.

 

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