Lance Armstrong’s acknowledgment that he cheated with drugs during his cycling career won’t stop the mission of the cancer charity he founded, Livestrong Foundation Executive Vice President Andy Miller said today.
Miller said Livestrong, the largest athlete-founded charity in the U.S. with more than $500 million raised since 1997, will survive and that the organization’s success was never based on one person.
“Is the Livestrong Foundation bigger than its founder? Will we survive?” Miller asked at a state-of-the-foundation address today in Chicago. “The answer is a resounding yes.”
Livestrong, whose yellow plastic donation bracelets were once ubiquitous, has faced questions about whether it can retain support since Armstrong confessed in January that he cheated with performance-enhancing drugs and banned transfusions, ending 13 years of denials and calling his record-setting career “one big lie.”
“Our success has never been based on one person,” Miller said. “It’s based on the patients and survivors we serve every day who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance.”
A cancer survivor, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the charity in October 2012 and resigned from its board in November. That month, the charity officially changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation from the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
“It’s been a difficult year, but through all the noise and distraction, some important issues were finally settled,” Miller said. “We set about charting an independent course forward. Still, we found ourselves caught in the crossfire of a media frenzy.”
Armstrong, 41, was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He created the foundation the following year and in 1999 won the first of a record seven straight Tour de France titles. Armstrong was stripped of those titles and banned for life from Olympic sports by the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency in August.
Armstrong apologized to Livestrong staff members at the organization’s Austin, Texas, office prior to his admission in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey that he’d used drugs. He later said that losing the foundation he started was the “most humbling moment” of his downfall.
Armstrong made at least $218 million during his career, according to a compilation of his earnings by Bloomberg News. He has lost his commercial sponsors, and the U.S. Justice Department said last week that it was joining a lawsuit by ex- teammate Floyd Landis that accuses the former champion of defrauding the government by using banned drugs while riding for the U.S. Postal Service.
Miller said that while some organizations might decide to “hunker down” and “wait until the storm passes,” Livestrong sees this time as an opportunity to advance understanding of how it helps fight cancer with programs that offer support, care and treatment.
“We certainly have people’s attention,” Miller said. “If we stay quiet, we put our mission at risk.”
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