We all remember seeing them at one time or another. It seemed like it would be a trend that would transcend the way we look at charitable causes and it certainly has. The recognizable yellow Livestrong bracelet was released by Nike in May 2004 and created by Lance Armstrong, a world class cyclist and cancer survivor. Armstrong is one of the major athletes who has affected the world in a positive manner with his humanitarian efforts.
The “Wear Yellow Live Strong” educational program headed by the Lance Armstrong Foundation was launched to raise money for cancer research and awareness. By 2005, the foundation had generated more than $55 million in bracelet sales and there have been more than 70 million sold worldwide to date. Armstrong’s foundation now not only dedicates itself to fighting cancer by posting the latest information and resources but it donates money to other causes. For example, community programs for those affected by Hurricane Katrina were established. In addition, research grants and partnerships with other cancer awareness groups have become a key component of the foundation.
All this from a man, whose athletic career – and life – almost ended following the diagnosis of testicular cancer when he was 25. Despite many necessary surgeries to treat his disease, Armstrong went on to become possibly the world’s greatest in the history of cycling. His seven consecutive Tour De France wins from 1999 to 2005 is unmatched in achievement and perhaps a testament to his strength and will as a cancer survivor.
Before retiring in 2005, Armstrong established himself as one of the renowned athletes in the world. Besides being named Associates Press Athlete of the Year from 2002 to 2005, he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 2002 and was the recipient of the ESPY’s Best Athlete award four consecutive years as well. Most recently, Armstrong was selected the No. 26 on the 2008 Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list.
Now at 36, Armstrong is three years removed from the competitive cycling world but has been relentless in his work with his foundation. Aside from the bracelets, his foundation has created several cancer survivor programs, endowments and benefits for education and awareness throughout the nation. Recently, the foundation held its annual LIVESTRONG Day on May 13, in which Armstrong traveled to several cross country destinations as part of the one-day initiative to raise awareness and money in the fight against cancer.
Undoubtedly, Armstrong is one of the most generous and conscious professional athletes to donate so much time and money to a cause. Sure, many pro athletes do their share of community work such as establishing their own foundations, making appearances, giving donations or speaking on behalf of organizations. But there is no lie that Armstrong’s effect on a worldwide scale for cancer awareness has surely been felt by its popularity and prominence in our culture today.
Many people who have followed Armstrong’s career and humanitarian efforts can also attest to the impact he has had in the cycling field and among cancer survivors throughout the globe.
Gary Boulanger, U.S. editor for the bikeradar.com, knows that from everything Armstrong has gone through makes him unique when comparing him to other athletes that give back to the world considerably.
“For one, he lived through agonizing chemotherapy, so he's experienced the blackness of cancer firsthand. His celebrity gains him access to the best researchers and doctors in the world, and he listens to their needs. He's always been driven to succeed, and after his first Tour victory in 1999, he won six more Tours for others,” Boulanger said in an e-mailed interview. “As head of the Livestrong Foundation, he's the one steering the ship and getting face time with senators, presidents and cancer scientists. He seems more determined to beat cancer than he was racing against Jan Ullrich.”
Boulanger also believes that Armstrong knows that he stands as an illustrious and accomplished figure who symbolizes hope to so many people.
“Armstrong has lived through what has killed millions, so for some he's a savior; for others he is light in a dark tunnel,” Boulanger said. “His star shines brightly because God knows He can use Armstrong to affect millions, as is evident by the response to the Livestrong wristbands.”
Like Boulanger, Associated Press columnist Jim Litke, who wrote his piece, “Armstrong prevails again,” on June 1, 2006, considers Armstrong one of the most influential athletes in the world.
“I'd put Armstrong at the top of any athlete's list, though many dowork for a variety of causes,” Litke said in an e-mailed interview. “I'd put himbehind only Tiger and Michael Jordan in terms of influence and he doesmore than either in terms of socially redeeming work.”
Litke thinks that Armstrong basically brought cycling to the forefront in popularity to the United States because of his success and prominence.
“He's put bike racing on the map in the U.S.,” Litke said. “Though it's been a big sport in Europe for decades, he's boosted its fortunes worldwide.
For sufferers of cancer, Armstrong has not only stood as a symbol of hope but an inspiration as well.
Ana Melendez, a mother of whose daughter, Stephanie Melendez, 15, suffers from leukemia, knows that Armstrong success and campaign has given faith to survivors like her own daughter.
“It’s given hope to my daughter and others to know that it is possible that there can be a cure,” Melendez said. “There are many people who have not given up their lives because they believe that it can happen a lot because of Armstrong.”
Melendez said she really respects the LIVESTRONG foundation for all its work and belief in the cause.
“He’s made a lot of people aware of the cause and what many people go through,” Melendez said. “It really makes you more human when you hear it.”
Certainly Armstrong has gone above and beyond what it means to be an athlete that gives back. Now he may most be remembered for his contributions made off the track in the advancement of cancer breakthroughs then through his victories in Tour De France. Armstrong has had a lifelong effect on people and forever changed the way an athlete becomes involved in humanitarian practices.