Born to Race Bikes
Lance Armstrong was, in his own words, "Born to race bikes." As a teenager, and the child of a divorced working mother in Plano, Texas, he trained and competed hard. On weekends, he rode his bicycle so far that he sometimes had to phone his mother to pick him up Armstrong's dedication to his training was so single-minded that he neglected his schoolwork and nearly failed his senior year of high school, but he managed to squeak by. After high school, his life was a whirlwind of amateur competitions, the 1992 Olympics, and then the professional cycling circuit.
In his first professional race, Armstrong came in dead last, but he won ten titles the following year. By 1996, he was a household name in Europe, and was gaining fame in the United States as well -heady stuff for any 25-year-old. It seemed that everything was going his way. But one fall day, Armstrong experienced an excruciating pain. Shockingly, tests revealed that he had advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and his brain. Doctors recommended surgeries to remove his malignant testicle and the cancer in his brain. following those procedures, he would undergo an agressive course of chemotherapy. The physicians told Armstrong that, even with the best treatment, he had les than a 50-50 chance to recover. This young, powerful man who had been on top of the world just days before now faces his own mortality.
The chemotherapy weakened Armstrong severely, and he lost 20 pounds. However, his years of training gave him great reserves of physical strenght and, at least as importantly, his will was strong. Armstrong has said cancer caused him to take a hard look at himself. He realized that he had relied on his tremendous natural physical abilities and had not learned the discipline, strategy, and teamwork that would be necesary to become a truly great cyclist. He had never given himself the opportunity to train. He would start, then stop, then start again just a month before a big race. His natural ability was so great that he still won many races, but not the long-distance ones for which more skill is required. Now that Armstrong could take nothing for granted, he realized how important it was to develop into the best cycler he could be. He had a strong network of family and friends he could count on for emotional support. And, even in the midst of his own treatment, he wanted to do something for others. To this end he established the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help other cancer victims and raise awareness about the importance of early detection. "Having cancer", he says, "was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Armstrong believes that his dedication to rebuilding his health and turning a tragedy into opportunity helped him to recover rapidly. His oncologist described the cyclist as "the most willful person I have ever met... he wasn't willing to die." Just 5 months after the diagnosis, he began to train again and vowed to return better than ever. But his sponsors, doubtful that he would ever be able to achieve this goal, dropped him. Armstrong signed a much less lucrative contract with another sponsor and continued to train but his initial efforts left him exhausted and depressed. Afraid of failing, afraid that his strenght would never rebound, afraid of a humiliating loss, afraid that his cancer would return, again and again Armstrong had to fight the desire to quit when things were too tough. One day, riding high in the mountains of North Carolina, he felt his unquenchable spirit return. A few days earlier, his coach had had to coax him to try just one more race. Now, he was on top of the world again, spoiling for a competition.
Armstrong won his first post-cancer race in 1998, but his real comeback arrived in 1999, when he won Tour de France, a grueling 21 days of riding totaling 2,110 miles. He became an inspiration and a role model to young people and cancer survivors around the world. In 2001, 5 years later after his diagnosis, Armstrong was pronounced cancer free. He undergoes regular testing to ensure that the disease has not recurred. He also continues to work with his foundation. In 2005, Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France race, setting a world record.
Why would someone say, as Armstrong did, that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him? Such statements represent a deliberate choice to view what anyone would agree is a "stressor" as an opportunity for growth.
The way that individuals view their challenges in life greatly influences whether they succeed in overcoming them.
The World of Psychology p. 424 -5
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