By Jared Eborn
To most, Lance Armstrong was a cyclist — a 7-time Tour de France winner.
To millions more, however, Armstrong is hope. He represents – or, perhaps, represented – hope that cancer was not the end. That the disease did not have to mean all was lost.
Livestrong, the foundation formed by Armstrong after his own diagnosis and recovery from testicular cancer, was more than a simple yellow wristband to millions. Livestrong was a symbol that cancer did not necessarily have to be the end. There was comfort, hope and a support system.
Though Livestrong long ago stopped funding cancer research and shifted its focus to awareness and support for survivors, the charity was a financial juggernaut in the world of fundraising. With Armstrong’s downfall, the future of the organization is facing uncertainty.
While many supporters are still backing Livestrong – long-time Armstrong sponsors such as Nike, Trek, Oakley and more have pledged to continue supporting the charity despite cutting official ties to Armstrong himself – there are numerous others walking away from anything having to do with Armstrong.
“”I was a huge Armstrong fan from 1999 to the time he retired. I would defend him from anyone,” Salt Lake City’s Michael Birdsong, who became a supporter of Livestrong while wife battled breast cancer in 1998, told CNN. “The whole thing is founded on a lie. The guy cheated, and he forced other people to cheat. I would like my money back. We donated under false pretenses.”
Elden Nelson, a Utahn more commonly known as the Fat Cyclist, has been one of the biggest Livestrong supports and has raised millions of dollars for the organization. He said he is hurt by the news Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs, but that will not change the way he helps fight cancer in any big way.
“Lance — supported by an incredible cast of talented and hard-working people — created a foundation that does an immense amount of good. I’ve experienced that good firsthand. So did Susan. So have my twins. So have a large number of people I’ve referred to Livestrong, to get the support and help they need,” Nelson said at FatCyclist.com. “Lance cares more deeply about the fight against cancer than people know. Lance has worked — and continues to work — incredibly hard at making Livestrong fulfill its mission. It’s what drives him.
“And he’s gone out of his way to help me in my efforts to support Livestrong. He’s been a friend to me and my family in hard times, and I value that friendship,” Nelson said. “I expect that Livestrong will be hit hard by this decision, but that doesn’t even remotely affect my intention to continue supporting it. “
With millions of dollars in revenue each year, Livestrong stands at a crossroads. Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the board of directors at Livestrong – citing the distraction he had become.
“This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart,” Armstrong said in a statement released on October 17. “Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”
So what is the future of Livestrong, its series of fundraising events and the iconic yellow wristbands?
That will be discovered over the next year or two.
In the meantime, countless wristbands were thrown in the garbage, twitter twibbons were removed and untold long-time supporters were left to find another source of inspiration – one, they hope, that would not be determined to have been built upon a lie.