California’s Mount Baldy is a four-mile mountain. Its grades, how steep the mountain feels, average 8.5% to as high as 14%. Cars groan climbing 14% grades. Riding a bicycle on Mt. Baldy is hellishly hard. Pro cyclists in last week’s Amgen Tour of California were huffing, puffing, and looking for relief. There is no relief, as I remembered.
What felt like days riding, sweating, and trying to turn my Specialized Roubaix’s crank one more time made time collapse. Surley I’d been climbing this mountain since birth, I remember thinking. I would stop, swig water laced with Hammer gels, look across the San Gabriel Mountains, and let my mind drift. Los Angeles and the end of a 3,000-mile journey were almost upon our three-person team, a lifelong dream almost over. “Not over yet,” Mt. Baldy seemed to laugh.” Laughing with me or at me?” I remember saying loudly to an empty mountain.
Climbing mountains on a bicycle, like most things, is mental. Positive thoughts create power. Negative thoughts make mountains steeper, push summits away, and increase leg pain. Lance Armstrong and LiveStrong generated powerful, positive “can do” thoughts during the 60 days of the cross-country Martin’s Ride. “If Lance can win seven tours after cancer, I can climb this mountain,” was a common thought. Doug Ulman, LiveStrong’s President, sent an encouraging note just before we left the Duke Cancer Institute on June 30th, 2010. As we discussed Martin’s Ride’s “cure cancer” goals at planned and unplanned stops from Durham to LA, LiveStrong and Lance were common reference points.
After thousands of spontaneous conversations, a couple of things were clear. People loved Lance Armstrong, and cancer touches almost everyone in direct or indirect ways. More than 11 million people live with cancer in the United States, a number projected to increase to 30 million by 2030. Multiply 11 million cancer survivors by friends and friends of friends, and half the country knows about fighting cancer, as LiveStrong’s ubiquitous yellow bracelets illustrated. In a prescient 2010 article, Fast Company asked if LiveStrong could survive a Lance Armstrong scandal.
Yes is the simple, complicated answer. The real scandal, every cancer survivor knows, is not curing cancer in our lifetime.
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