Lance Armstrong—from cancer survivor to champion cyclist, his road has been filled with speed bumps, hairpin turns, and people in weird costumes running alongside his bicycle. Let’s look at some highlights:
Lance Armstrong, the man with the quintessential all-American name, was actually born Lance Edward Gunderson on 18 September 1971 in Plano, Texas. For some reason, his parents named him after professional football player Lance Rentzel, who had been arrested the previous year for indecently exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl.
Talk about humble beginnings.
But, in a harbinger of things to come, Lance overcame this handicap and in 1974 received his new comic book-y name when his mother married one Terry Armstrong, who adopted the boy.
Lance began his athletic career as a 12-year-old swimmer, and began his cycling career a few years later after seeing a poster advertising a triathlon competition. He entered and won easily. By 1991 he was the U.S. amateur cycling champion, and in 1993 he entered his first Tour de France, dropping out of the race after the 12th stage while running in 97th place.
However, Lance continued to improve until 1996, when illness intervened.
Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer at age 25, and was given at best a 40% chance of survival. He required chemotherapy and a surgical procedure called an orchiectiomy to remove the diseased testicle.
His cancer went into remission and by the beginning of 1998 he was back in serious training.
Tour de France
Armstrong completed his comeback in 1999 when he won the Tour de France, a three-week, 3600 kilometer race that is considered the most important cycling event in the world. He won again every year through 2005, making him the only rider to win the event seven times.
Armstrong's success in France made him a major celebrity in America; while Americans have never shown a lot of interest in bike racing generally, they have always been interested in making fun of France.
Probably because of the French.
Armstrong retired after the 2005 victory, but announced a comeback attempt in 2008. In 2009 he returned to the big race and finished third; his 2010 race was marred by crashes and he finished 23rd.
Because of his success in a sport proven to be riddled with uncontrollable drugsuckers, Armstrong has persistently been accused of doping. Former teammates, former employees, and various journalists have accused him of drug use; Paul Kimmage, a former professional cyclist and now a sports journalist, even referred to Armstrong as "a cancer in cycling."
Stay classy, Paul.
Armstrong has repeatedly denied all accusations in no uncertain terms; while he has been tested dozens of times and has never been disciplined, many questions have been raised regarding possible cover-ups involving test results and the handling of his urine. Retests of old urine samples from storage have reportedly shown the presence of erythropoietin, a hormone that controls red blood cell production.
"Good thing we hung onto those."
However, serious questions were raised regarding the storage of the samples as well as the testing procedure, leaving the question open while allegations continue to fly.
In any case, Armstrong has never definitively been shown to have used illegal performance enhancers, which proves one thing: if Lance Armstrong takes drugs, he's pretty good at it.
Lance was married from 1998 to 2003 to Kristin Richard, and they had three children using sperm that had been banked prior to Lance's chemotherapy and surgery.
"Good thing we hung onto those."
Shortly after filing for divorce, Armstrong began dating singer Sheryl Crow, and their relationship became public in 2004. They announced their engagement and intention to spend their lives together in 2005, and announced their breakup roughly ten minutes later. Since then, Armstrong has been linked with several women, including fashion designer Tory Burch, actress Kate Hudson, and whatever Ashley Olsen is. In 2009 and 2010, Armstrong fathered children with girlfriend Anna Hansen by natural means.
Not pictured: natural means.
In 1997, Armstrong formed the Lance Armstrong Foundation, dedicated to helping cancer victims. Sales of yellow Livestrong bracelets have raised a reported $325 million for cancer research. Just sayin'.