Read Every second counts Online

Authors: Lance Armstrong

Every second counts

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EverySecondCounts

Lance Armstrongwith Sally Jenkins

Broadway BooksNew York

 

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

 

Epilogue

Afterword

By the same author

Copyright Page

 

 

To Luke, Grace, and Isabellefor always reminding me that every second really does count

 

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to offer their deeply felt thanks to the following people, without whom this book could not have been started, and certainly would never have been completed.

Bill Stapleton, Bart Knaggs, and Lee Walker offered unvarnished advice and their ever-sure friendship. Jim Ochowicz, Dr. Craig Nichols, Johan Bruyneel, George Hincapie, Jeff Garvey, and Doug Ullman gave the same, as well as their conscientious service to various causes. Sally Reed and everyone at the foundation are a constant example. Countless other friends, including Scott MacEachren, Dave Mingey, andRyan Street, offered their memories and perspectives. Stacy Creamer of Broadway Books was her usual generous and tremendously patient editor-self, and Stuart Calderwood’s care of the manuscript was invaluable.

But they will all understand when I say that my greatest thanks go to my family and to my team, Big Blue.

CHAPTER 1

Pitched Back

 

So, it looks as though I’m going to live—at least for another 50 years or more. But whenever I need to reassure myself of this, as I sometimes do, I go out to a place called Dead Man’s Hole, and I stare down into it, and then, with firm intent, I strip off my shirt and I leap straight out into what you might call the great sublime.

Let’s say it’s my own personal way of checking for vital signs. Dead Man’s Hole is a large green mineral pool gouged out of a circular limestone cliff, so deep into the hill country ofTexasthat it’s hardly got an address. According to conflicting legends, it’s either where Confederates tossed Union sympathizers to drown, or where Apaches lured unsuspecting cowboys who didn’t see the fall coming. In any event, I’m drawn to it, so much so that I bought 200 acres of brush and pasture surrounding it, and I’ve worn a road into the dirt by driving out there. It seems only right that a place called Dead Man’s Hole should belong to a guy who nearly died—and who, by the way, has no intention of just barely living.

I stand there next to a 45-foot waterfall and examine the drop—and myself, while I’m at it. It’s a long drop, so long that it makes the roof of my mouth go dry just looking at it. It’s long enough for a guy to actually think on the way down, and to think more than one thought, too. Long enough to think first one thing,A little fear is good for you, and then another,It’sgood for you if you can swim, and then one more thing as I hit the water:Oh fuck, it’s cold. As I jump, there are certain unmistakable signs that I’m alive: the press of my pulse, the insistent sound of my own breathing, and the whanging in my chest that’s my heart, which by then sounds like an insubordinate prisoner beating on the bars of my ribcage.

I come up whooping through the foam and swim for the rocks. Then I climb back up and towel off, and I drive home to my three kids. I burst through the door, and I shout at my son, Luke, and my twin daughters, Grace and Isabelle, and I kiss them on the necks, and I grab a Shiner Bock beer with one hand and an armful of babies with the other.

The first time I ever did it, my wife, Kik, just looked at me and rolled her eyes. She knew where I’d been.

“Was that clarifying for you?” she said.

 

At what pointdo you let go of not dying? Maybe I haven’t entirely and maybe I don’t want to.

I know they’re out there, lying in their hospital beds, with those damn drip poles, watching the damn chemo slide into their veins, and thinking,Thisguy had the same thing I do. If he can do it, I can, too. I think of them all the time.

My friend Lee Walker says I got “pitched back.” What he means is, I almost died, and possibly even did die a little, but then I got pitched back into the world of the living. It’s as good a description as any of what happened. I was 25 when cancer nearly killed me: advanced choriocarcinoma spread to my abdomen, lungs, and brain and required two surgeries and four cycles of chemotherapy to get rid of. I wrote an entire book about death, calledIt’s NotAboutthe Bike, about confronting the possibility of it, and narrowly escaping it.

“Are you sure?” I asked the doctor.

“I’m sure.”

“How sure?”

“I’m very sure.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’m so sure that I’ve scheduled you for surgery at7A.M.tomorrow.”

Mounted on a light table, the X-ray showed my chest.Black meant clear; white meant cancer. My chest looked like a snowstorm.

What I didn’t and couldn’t address at the time was the prospect of life. Once you figure out you’re going to live, you have to decide how to, and that’s not an uncomplicated matter. You ask yourself:now that I know I’m not going to die, what will I do? What’s the highest and best use of my self?These things aren’t linear, they’re a mysterious calculus. For me, the best use of myself has been to race in the Tour de France, the most grueling sporting event in the world.

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 likeyou?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“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.

“This tastes like Sprite,” I said.

“Just drink it,” she said.

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