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Lance: Champion on and off the bike

Editor's note: Yes, Lance Armstrong's admission to doping certainly ruined his reputation and tarnished his cycling achievements. And while, for me, the lying was the most disturbing part of the affair, I still consider it a thrill to have had the opportunity to meet him. The following is an account of that encounter.

In my mind's eye, I'd already met him a thousand times. Our conversations covered the gamut, from talking about cycling to telling each other about our families.

This imagery often occurred throughout the months of training leading up to my eight-state bicycle journey, only to intensify during the actual ride itself.

But realistically I kept wondering what I would actually say to Lance Armstrong.

Yes, he was no more human than myself, but he was known throughout the world for his victorious battle against cancer and his subsequent wins of the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) in the Tour de France. Not once, but for the last three years and with an excellent chance for number four this coming summer.

It had even crossed my mind that I might be unable to utter anything when I finally met this cycling icon.

Needless to say, when the actual event took place at our Austin hotel, everything went fine and I had the experience of a lifetime.

Nearly 210 Peloton Project members who raised a minimum of $5,000 apiece were entitled to the autograph/photo session with Lance. Our itinerary indicated a 4 p.m. starting time, so I decided to beat the rush and arrived 15 minutes early. Approximately 50 or so others had the same thought, so a long line formed as we waited for the star of the show.

The pause was the first of many opportunities over the next three days to meet fellow Peloton members, to find out where they were from, how they raised their donations, and often learning that they themselves were a cancer survivor.

When Lance finally arrived, an unmistakable excitement filled the air. As he casually strolled into the room, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, we all began cheering and applauding for the man whose cause had brought us together.

Later in the weekend, Lance would refer to us as the "real troopers" of his foundation. The look of satisfaction he gave us upon his arrival certainly conveyed that sentiment.

We were reminded Lance would sign only two items for each of us and that we were to kneel beside him so a photograph could be taken of the occasion. His signature was applied to mostly jerseys, posters, and books, but I saw later that one woman had Lance sign her thigh.

Meeting Lance in Austin, Texas, 2002

As we entered a room for the big moment, Lance was sitting alone at a long wooden table with a blue backdrop featuring the logo of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Bright portable lights used by the photographers were also part of the decor.

I watched in amazement as those in line ahead of me had their special time with Lance. Then it was my turn.

As I approached, I shook his hand and said, "Hello, Lance." He replied "Hello" and somehow I managed to remember to go down on my knee, almost in reverence.

While Lance was signing my two items, I told him that I had cycled from Boone, North Carolina, as part of my fundraising campaign and I had just arrived in Austin that morning.

He looked at me and said, "Wow," and quickly added, "I really like Boone. It's a special place, but I haven't been back since." I knew right away the word "since" was in reference to the training time Lance spent in Boone when he rekindled his career and his love for cycling.

I thanked him for the autographs and as I walked away I looked back and said, "Good luck in July." There was a nod from Lance and then it was over.

I saw Lance on other occasions over the weekend, but nothing compared to the personal nature of what took place that Friday afternoon.

I was struck and profoundly grateful of how, for the two or three minutes out of his extremely demanding life, Lance Armstrong was completely focused on my presence and what I had to say. And it wasn't just with me, but he did it with all the Peloton Project members.

And that is what I will remember most about my real encounter with a truly remarkable human being.

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