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Steve Ready: Hat or No Hat?

Published March 13, 2012

It took a diagnosis of metastatic cancer to turn me into an optimist. It also cured my hypochondria. Another unexpected result was to teach me the real meaning of the "Lance effect."

Some months ago in this space, my old friends Ray Keener and  Felix Magowan debated what Ray referred to as "the Lance effect"... the impact Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories had on bicycle sales. Ray argued that, for all his victories and publicity, Lance's efforts didn't result in increased overall sales. Felix argued that they did, if you considered dollar volume instead of just unit sales. To me, Felix made the better case, but to paraphrase Clark Gable's closing line in Gone With The Wind.... "Frankly guys, I don't give a damn."

The real "Lance effect" kicks in after the initial shock of the diagnosis begins to fade. You say to yourself, "Lance had cancer in his testicles, stomach, lungs and brain. I only have it in my lungs and brain. I may not win the Tour, but I've got a fighting chance of beating this thing." That internal monologue takes place in the minds and hearts of cancer survivors countless times every day. That, I submit, is the true and lasting Lance effect and its value is incalculable.

I met Lance in December 1996 at the Korbel Night of Champions, just as he was finishing his cancer treatments. He gave a wonderful presentation that I'll always think of as his "Hat or no hat" speech. After an introduction from Phil Liggett, he took the podium wearing a tuxedo and a knit cap. He opened his speech with a question for the audience. "Hat?", he asked with the cap pulled low on his head, "or no hat?", he followed as he whipped off the cap. The crowd roared for "no hat" as the stage lights reflected off his shiny bald dome.

The rest of the speech was perfect...confident, clear-eyed and inspiring. Some of the earlier introductions and tributes had a hint of eulogy about them. Lance put any such thoughts to rest. He said his doctors had pronounced him cancer free. He'd be flying back to Indianopolis the next day for one last treatment, just to be sure.

He talked about his mother's unwavering confidence and support through it all. I remember thinking what a courageous person this young mom must be. I have a ninety year-old Italian mother with powerful Neapolitan mojo, and a beautiful, courageous and endlessly supportive wife, so I'm blessed in that way, too.

For all the talk, Lance and his mom may have been the only ones in the room with complete confidence in his recovery. His racing team wavered and dropped him a short time later. They would have at least seven opportunities in the coming years to appreciate their error in judgement.

A few weeks ago, federal prosecutors apparently recognized their error in judgement and quietly dropped the case they'd spent millions of your tax dollars on trying to prove that Lance had bought and used performance enhancing drugs payed for with U.S Postal Services money. It never happened. Who are you going to believe, Lance Armstrong or publicity seeking federal prosecutors, bitter French journalists and Floyd Landis?

Since shaking his hand after his speech in 1996, I've found it easy to believe in Lance Armstrong.  That belief was reenforced last November when, after a radiation treatment I walked to the car to find my wife staring at her iPhone with tears in her eyes. She was watching a personal video Lance had sent us offering encouragement and any help he, personally, or his foundation could provide. Even on the tiny smart phone, his clear-eyed sincerity and confidence came through, just as they had sixteen years prior.

Of course I joined the Livestrong Foundation, a bit embarrassed that I hadnt done so sooner. You don't have to be one of millions of cancer survivors to join the Livestrong Foundation,  but you'll be helping all of them when you do. Lance Armstrong's life, career and Foundation are testimony to the power of belief. My hat's off to him.

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