Possibly the greatest story ever told | PostIndependent.com

Possibly the greatest story ever told

Write Angles

The greatest story ever told?It has all the ingredients, including the courageous hero that helps make all great stories legendary.Lance Armstrong recently completed the final chapter of his legendary sports career with a seventh-straight Tour de France victory.The Armstrong story is indeed one for the ages.What he’s accomplished since 1999 in the most grueling sporting event in the world is astounding. For the past seven years, Armstrong has owned July, turning the competition in a race for second place. Seven Tour de France titles is two more than the previous record. His domination of the cycling event is possibly the greatest individual achievement in sports. Year-in and year-out, Armstrong went to France and returned a champion.As amazing as his sporting accomplishments are, to make it the greatest story ever told, something else is needed.At the foundation of Lance Armstrong’s phenomenal career is his greatest victory of his life. The Lance Armstrong story is as well documented as our solar system. It’s a story that makes an amazing sports story into a legendary life story.Oct. 2, 1996, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The cancer spread into his abdomen, lungs and brain. He was given a 40 percent chance of survival.Some said Armstrong was facing a death sentence.Refusing to be imprisoned by the disease, Lance Armstrong made it a life sentence.A few days after the diagnosis, the brightest star on the U.S. cycling front said that he would beat cancer and return to competitive cycling.Even the most optimistic people had doubts. Testicular cancer that spread into the abdomen, lungs and brain – all Armstrong was peddling was false hope.The greatest story ever told had just begun.Armstrong had notched two individual stage wins in the Tour before cancer knocked him off the bike.Fast forward to July 1999 – the unimaginable became reality. Armstrong won the opening stage of the Tour de France. Then he went on to win the overall race, becoming the second American ever to accomplish the feat. Three-time winner Greg LeMond was the other, doing it in 1986, and 1989-90.Looking a death sentence in the face obviously had a profound effect on the Texan.As a young rider, Armstrong was as brash and cocky as Texas is big. Surviving cancer humbled him. The post-cancer Armstrong was humble and cocky. In an era where professional athletes embrace brashness and bravado like a Medal of Honor, Armstrong’s attitude changed when death was suddenly a possibility.Armstrong rebounded from cancer with more focus and more drive. His training suddenly took on a new intensity.Armstrong also reinvented himself as a cyclist after his return from cancer.Reinventing oneself as an athlete is more rare than a vampire’s steak. But that’s what he did, completely changing his riding style. He adopted a high-cadence cycling style and his body weight dropped from what it was in the pre-cancer days.Lance Armstrong was lighter and hungrier when he returned. After burying cancer, Armstrong devoured the competition one year after the next.For the past seven years, Armstrong has used his new cycling style and his new outlook on life to overpower all comers to the Tour de France. The three-week Tour is a torturous grind, and for seven years, Armstrong has pedaled more than 15,000 miles en route to his seven titles. The Alps and Pyrenees became his personal showcase, demonstrating his power, courage and intense competitiveness. After facing cancer, the Alps and Pyrenees must not have seemed like such large obstacles.The pain of the Tour is the ultimate test of a cyclist. Grinding over mountains, and facing the truest test of cycling – the individual time trial – Armstrong always showed that he was the best on the bike.Off the bike, he has never lost sight of what his role is as the most famous cancer survivor in the world. With his Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Livestrong bracelet program, Armstrong has helped raise millions of dollars for cancer research. He also accepts his destiny as the ultimate inspirational role model to millions.Armstrong is more than the greatest cyclist in the world. He will remain the beacon of hope to everyone who is faced with the reality of cancer.For the past seven years, Lance Armstrong has been on center stage, wearing the yellow jersey as he road roughshod through the Tour de France in July. Armstrong is now closing the chapter on his amazing cycling career. The seven Tour titles is a mark that may never be broken. His legacy on the bicycle is now one of legend.Now comes life after the bike.Is it the greatest story ever told?It’s still too early to say.Even though Armstrong’s competitive cycling career is over, his life sentence still has many chapters remaining.Dale Shrull is the managing editor for the Post Independent. Contact him at dshrull@postindependent.com

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