The turmoil, controversy and general overall animosity toward Lance Armstrong has reached such a fever pitch that even something as monumental as being stripped of an Olympic medal (bronze from 2000) is no more than a footnote these days.
Simply keeping up with all the hubris, lawsuits and speculation about Armstrong is impossible to keep track of anymore. So I won’t even try. Instead, as I watch at least part of his act/story/excuse/confession to Oprah tonight, I’ll think back on two brushes with Armstrong that have always bothered the heck out of me.
The first happened about 10 years ago, at the height of the public’s idolatry with Armstrong. Bart Yasso and I were flying to Austin for the Austin Marathon and on our flight was a cyclist I vaguely recognized. When we stopped to change planes in Chicago, Bart was talking to the guy at the gate who was in obvious physical distress and looked terrible.
Turned out he was in late-stage cancer and, as it turned out, I knew him. He was a nationally-ranked cyclist who I had seen race many times and he was married to a woman I knew from work. The poor guy was not even 30, but the cancer and chemo had ravaged his body so badly, that he could barely stand without a cane.
He was headed to Austin on the same plane we were and, as he told us, he had been granted a private audience with his hero—Mr. Yellow Jersey—at some cycling event that weekend. “All I want to do is meet Lance and shake his hand.” What was left unsaid was, “Before I die,” but it was understood.
After running the marathon—this was the bitterly cold, windy race of 2003—Bart and I hustled to the airport to catch a noon flight. At the gate, was the same guy who was positively aglow after his meeting with Lance.
He had spent five glorious minutes with Armstrong. I was a little taken aback that he had flown halfway across the country just to meet Armstrong who didn’t have more than five minutes to spare for this fellow cyclist who only had a few more weeks left to live. But this cyclist made it sound like they were the best five minutes of his life.
A few months later I ran into his widow who told me that the meeting with Armstrong had meant so much to him and that when he died, he died at peace after his brief encounter with the man he perceived as the world’s greatest cancer survivor…and cyclist.
I’m sure Armstrong had many such encounters with other cancer patients and I’m also certain he provided the same type of incalculable inspiration. I just can’t help but wonder how other cancer survivors would feel about Armstrong today.
My other Armstrong story is considerably less uplifting and confirms the ruthlessness he has been accused so often in the last month. For years, one of my best friends in the running industry was a running products manager for Nike. He worked there 27 years and was one of the most respected men in the business. About five years ago, he shifted from running to the Lance Armstrong/Livestrong Collection. During that time, he had frequent interaction with Armstrong here and at Nike HQ as he developed the line which needed Lance’s stamp of approval.
During Armstrong’s buildup for the ’07 New York City Marathon, my friend diplomatically mentioned to Armstrong that he was wearing the wrong clothes in a photo shoot. Evidently, Armstrong wasn’t wearing clothes that were part of the collection which he was contracted to wear.
Regardless, the next day my friend was summarily fired at Armstrong’s direction and booted out the door from a company he had so loyally served. It’s probably as much an indictment of Nike as Armstrong, but it also shows the vindictiveness that is now coming at Armstrong from every angle.
Regardless, we’ll hear Armstrong’s story tonight. I just wonder—to mimic what Armstrong said a few years ago in response to Tyler Hamilton’s initial doping charges—whether Armstrong still likes his story these days.
O The USA 100-K Trail Championships were held in Bandera last Saturday and Sage Canady of Boulder won the race in 8:13:49. But holding down third and fourth place were Austinites Paul Terranova, 39, in 8:55:41 and Erik Stanley in fourth in 9:21:50. Terranova, more noted for his age group prowess in the triathlon, had, of course, run four 100-milers last summer before completing the Hawaii Ironman in October (the first to run all four and the Ironman in a single year). As far as I can tell, Stanley, the former UT All American from Spring, was running his first ultra and although he almost quit twice during the race, he hung in to the finish. Steve Moore of Austin was ninth in 10:39, Jorge Cardenas of Round Rock was 16th in 11:24 and Sydney Pitt finished 19th in 12:19. Bill Patience, 58 of Georgetown was 38th in 14:36.
O Top woman at Bandera was Michele Yates of Colorado who finished seventh overall to win her division in 10:08 with Melanie Fryar of San Antonio in second in 10:17. Sabrina Little, another Texan, was third in 11:00.
O Desiree Ficker, who was pacing the 1:40 group at the 3M Half on Sunday, was running for two. Although Ficker is barely showing, the 36-year-old is pregnant. The former pro triathlete who finished second in the 2006 Ironman World Champs, married pro football scout Matt Berry in November and the couple are expecting their first child. Congrats!
O As usual, the 3M Half Marathon was a terrific race. The rough stretch of hills in the final two miles along Red River and Dean Keaton certainly were a difficult way to finish, but the change was forced by the closure of the UT campus due to the weekend move-in. Next year the race will revert back to the course it used in 2012 which has a gentler finish. One change that I wish race directors Matt Fagan and Jane Kovacs would institute is announcing on the website beforehand where the results will be posted. This year the results were posed live by We Time Races (www.wetimeraces.com) but the link was never established until much later on Sunday, leaving many 3M runners wondering their time and place. Easy to fix.
O I was down in Houston for the Marathon Expo (rushing home late Saturday night to get back in time for 3M), but a lot of the talk in Houston wasn’t about PRs, training or even the impending rotten weather for the race. Nope, most of the chatter was about the flu. Seems like half the field either had it, was just getting over it or was wondering whether they should run through it. Olympic Trials champ Meb Keflezighi was getting over a bad bout with it which forced him to miss a week of running. Meb was still so weak, he decided against starting the half marathon which was won by Fiyesa Lilesa of Ethiopia in 1:01:54. The top American was Luke Puksedra, a 6-4 Oregon graduate from Utah, who ran 1:02:32 for fifth place.
O The first Texan in the women’s marathon in Houston was none other than Laleh Mojtabeezamani who placed ninth in 2:53:36 in her first marathon. Laleh just graduated from UT in December where she was an academic All Big 12 in track and cross-country runner for Steve Sisson. Originally from Keller, Laleh has begun teaching in the Metroplex Teach for America program.
O For the next two years (2014-15), Houston will once again play host to the men’s and women’s USA Half Marathon Championships. The dates haven’t been set yet, but the US champs will be held in January in conjunction with the Aramco Houston Half, rather than being a separate stand-alone race as it was in ’12 when Houston hosted the Olympic Trials and ’10-11 when the Half Champs were in Houston. No dates have been set yet, but it will probably be the same second weekend in January.
O BTW: The 2010 national half-marathon champ Antonio Vega, who won his lone national title in Houston, was back in Houston for the half marathon after suffering through two years of hip injuries and two operations. Vega was hoping Houston would signal the start of his comeback to national prominence, but he dropped out of the half after only five miles and told friends he might need hip surgery again.
O UT announced yesterday that Michele Freeman, who has served as a volunteer coach for the women’s track team the past 10 years, will fill in as an interim sprint coach for the ’13 indoor and outdoor season. Freeman, a three-time Olympian from Jamaica, competed at the University of Florida where she was coached by Bev Kearney. Kearney was forced to resign as UT’s head coach two weeks ago after she admitted having a consensual relationship in 2002 with a runner on her team.
O A quarter-mile part of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail will be closed down next week for about six months. The section of the trail just east of the Seaholm Power Plant on the north side of Lady Bird Lake will be fenced off, directing runners and bikers up to Cesar Chavez and a crumbly, rocky pathway that borders the road. The section the city is closing includes the small footbridge that connects the trail to the peninsula along the shore at Shoal Creek. City engineers say that section of the trail along the shore is eroding so badly that it needs to be shored up with boulders, trees and vegetation.
O In other trail news, the water coolers along the trail, supplied by RunTex, Luke’s and Rogue Running will soon reappear. City officials forced the stores to remove the water coolers along the trail in November after determining that state law required the coolers to be permitted. The City Council will waive about $650 in permitting fees for the stores that provide the water if the coolers are locked and secured so they can’t be tampered with. Even though there are water fountains at the MoPac trailhead (The Rock), the fountains have been shut down since the cold weather gripped the area. The coolers should be back on the trail in a couple of weeks.
O At this point, I don’t know if anything can be done to save the Lions Municipal Golf Course on Lake Austin Boulevard. UT owns the land and plans to tear up the 141-acre historic course in 2019 when the city’s lease expires. Anyway, some folks are still fighting the good fight to keep Muny and for the second year, there will be a 5-K race on the course. Staged by Luke’s Locker, the Run for the Green 5-K will be held on March 3 on the actual course at 8 a.m. Longtime Muny employee Mike Brent, who is a runner, is the brains behind the race and last year he got Ben Crenshaw, a vocal proponent of the Save Muny campaign, to be the official starter. Interested? Go to www.savemuny.com.
O Don’t forget the Rogue 30-K is next Sunday (January 27th) in Cedar Park. The fifth of the six race Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series,the 30-K brings back a familiar distance to the Distance Challenge. Ruth England of Rogue expects about 500 runners in the 30-K with another 400 in the accompanying 10-K for this first-time event.
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Cost of Living” by Delbert McClinton. Delbert and his son Clay are performing together at the historic Bugle Boy in La Grange on Friday night at 8 p.m. The show will also be streamed live. For info, go to www.delbert.com.
Have any juicy news for me? (It doesn’t have to be entirely true.) If you have something, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.