I’ve been fortunate to have had a successful bicycle racing background in my previous life. I started racing in 1996 at 10 years old, the same year Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer. Cycling was still a totally foreign thing that didn’t have much of a following in the United States, let alone from a youth culture focused on baseball, basketball and football. I discovered the bicycle and the freedom it brought, the guys I rode and raced with were 10-20 years older than me and took me under their wings for guidance and in those early days, supervision. The bicycle was a way to get out and see sites beyond the picture perfect suburbia I was raised in with perfectly manicured lawns and concrete ears of corn that were considered art. I was provided a great childhood by my parents in a perfect, safe town; and the bicycle was just as much my way to rebel against that “norm” as anything else.
Somewhere along the way, I got pretty good at going fast on a bicycle. It afforded a way to travel to race, to see sites and experience things that educated me in ways I never imagined. About that same time, Lance Armstrong started winning Tour De France jerseys; and suddenly cycling was no longer the sport on TV late at night–but on prime time ABC as the American dominated. Suddenly, when I said I was a cyclist the question was “like what Lance Armstrong does?”, a shift from either a funny look or “like whatever Greg LeMond did?” as was the question for those early years of my cycling career.
I sit here today, 17 years after my first bicycle race at 10 years old, and am truly saddened at the events within the cycling world. My vision for Nine13sports was to give Indiana youth a chance to experience the same freedom I felt on a bicycle and use it as a tool to combat the shifts in society health that I’ve witnessed first hand growing up in the Midwest. I’m saddened because it isn’t uncommon for a student participant to ask about Lance Armstrong, or say they had watched Lance, or that they had a family member with cancer that was inspired by Lance. Lance Armstrong, teenager from Plano, Texas–transcended continents, history, cancer, and made it so kids in Central Indiana knew him by name. Central Indiana–the same city that helped cure his cancer, he is known by students who were born years after he was in town for cancer treatment.
I sit here this morning in my office, preparing to launch a new session of programs with hundreds of Central Indiana kids, preparing to provide programs for thousands of youth during 2013. Our non-profit is not a cycling non-profit, we’re a health and wellness NPO that uses the bicycle as our tool and craft. But we also know that this reality doesn’t matter to the kids who see our bicycles and think of Lance Armstrong, who say “I want to go as fast as Lance!”. So I sit here this morning and think about what we will say when asked about Lance and his doping confession, about his efforts to avoid the truth and how his confession will translate into the minds of our students and the philanthropic kindness of our donors.
At the end of the day, I hope we can find a way to use the facts of what Lance has done and educate students about fair play and community values and work to connect with our already great program partners to act as a support role in any other avenue that might appear.
To us–it really is all about the bike and every second with every student is a victory to us.