The facts seem indisputable. After a courageous battle against cancer, Lance Armstrong inspired millions of people - bike aficionados and those who don't know a pelleton from a crouton - by winning the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times in a row.
As one of the millions who have been inspired by Lance - and who has beaten Lance numerous times (in feats of my imagination) during my weekly bike rides - I cannot dispute Lance's biking prowess. Nor can I deny his fearlessness, fearlessness in the face of cancer and in the face of stiff bicycling competition.
But I can dispute the notion that Lance's battle against cancer was a superhuman feat, that his ability to survive metastatic cancer arose from the same mental and physiologic freakiness that allowed him to dominate the most physically demanding event in all of sports.
Folks: I know that Lance Armstrong is an amazing guy. But please don't give him more credit than he is due. Lance Armstrong fought against his cancer, no doubt. And this fight required strength, which he had in spades.
But his survival was not some freakish coincidence; it wasn't a matter of his biology overcoming and otherwise relentless tumor. Lance Armstrong survived, in large part, because he came down with one of the kinds of cancer that happens to respond to treatment. And his cancer was cured because Lance acted the way most people would act - he sought out treatment, and suffered through the miseries that such treatment brought upon him.
As I discuss in my book You're Stronger than You Think, few people, when faced with life threatening but potentially curable cancers, lie down and die. Few people give up without a fight. And cancer survivors don't typically survive because they are tougher or stronger than other people. My gosh. What would such a truth mean for those who die of cancer: That they are weak? That they didn't fight hard enough? That they weren't enough like Lance?
In my book, I write about several people who confront serious illnesses, like cancer, and manage to thrive. The people I write about are inspiring and deserve our admiration. But they are not superhuman. They are, simply, human. And being human often means being endowed with unbelievable reservoirs of strength. Most of us underestimate our own strength, making the human seem superhuman.
I'm inspired by Lance not because he survived cancer, but because of the phenomenal discipline he showed in winning seven Tours. That feat required strength that most people will never have. Out on the cold roads in early spring, he had to know that he could take it easy once in a while without jeopardizing his chance to win the Tour. Did he really need to push so hard up every mountain every day?
But time and again, Lance didn't let that type of thinking dissuade him from his efforts. He rode up those mountains. Often he rode back down and rode up again on the same day, to the point of sickness and exhaustion. Day in, day out. What relentless effort!
Let's show more appreciation for what is truly great about Lance Armstrong - that he was not only supremely talented, but was also an overachiever.
And let's show more appreciation for the millions of people diagnosed with cancer every year, who exhibit so much strength in the face of their illness, some of whom live and some of whom die, but few of whom give up without a fight!