The Case for a Piece of Yellow; Livestrong
By Victoria W. Kuhr
In the tantalizing teaser for Friday night’s part-two ‘no holds’ interview with Lance Armstrong, Oprah put forth, ‘What do you say to the millions of people wearing Livestrong bracelets?’ Tonight’s answer is one I cannot wait to hear. Since I am one of those proud people who are still wearing the yellow plastic band around my right wrist and until a few weeks ago, I had never purposefully removed it since the moment I put it on in 2004. Count them: that is nine years of believing. In 1997, Lance Armstrong started his Cancer Foundation; in 2004, they launched the Livestrong wristband, and by 2005 had sold 55 million bracelets at a $1.00 a pop. It went on to spur all types of awareness wristbands, but one that was extremely popular and hard to come by in its first days of release.
In the summer of 2004, I was 19 years old. I had cycled across the United States at the age of 16; Lance Armstrong was a heroic symbol in my enthusiastic cyclist's mind. Great friendships were created bonding over the Tour de France. Then, that very summer of 2004, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I needed that bracelet. It instantaneously became an unexplained necessity to possess one. However, due to the Livestrong phenomenon it took a few weeks before one became mine; lovingly carried home one night by my mother. I think she understood the unspoken need for it. We didn't talk about the cancer, it was just there. I barely told my friends, but due to the Livestrong's popularity, no one suspected; everyone sported their own yellow band. But like all trends, they slowly die, and over the next two years I had practically forgotten about the piece of plastic still wrapped around my wrist, while so many others had long since taken theirs off. It was light and blended into my everyday life; a silent reminder.
Then in December 2006, my mother, breast cancer free, was unexpectedly diagnosed with brain tumorsOn my wrist, the yellow blazed again, waking me up, screaming at me, 'that anything in life can happen; there is still fight to be had.' At family gatherings, it whispered, 'be present in this moment;' with my friends, it said, 'these people are important;' with any of my daily disappointments, it nudged, 'this is nothing compared to what life could be.' And it stirred me to believe that anyone could be the odds, Lance did. At the time my coined phrase was, hope dies last. I never talked about my mother’s brain tumors, few friends new, but Livestrong propelled me to be active in cancer events and proud to dawn the Livestrong gear. When I felt helpless, the cause made me feel connected.
Last night in Oprah’s interview, 3.2 million people tuned in to watch Lance admit he deceived the world, including myself. We all know the story, we’ve speculated on the facts, and now we’re learning the timeline. Nearly 14 years after winning his first Tour title, Lance has finally been defeated. Compounding on each lie, he made it impossible to escape the person he had created. And he has disappointed me. I don’t hate the man, I am not angry; I am just let down. In the weeks leading up to this interview, I had taken off my bracelet because I thought it meant I believed in Lance and I no longer did. I was done getting quested for wearing it from friends and strangers. The charges made at Lance were too great. Yet this morning, I woke up, and rolled the yellow plastic back onto my wrist. Because at the end of the day, Lance Armstrong may no longer be associated with his charity, he may not be the great cyclist I cheered for in the Tours, and he is definitely not an honest man. But the fact is, that piece of plastic is important to me. I do not believe in Lance Armstrong anymore, but I do believe in Livestrong. So, at least, at least he gave me that.