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John Romano: Lance Armstrong's reputation is ruined, but his impact is very real for some

The apology, if it comes, may well be self-serving.

Heaven knows, when it comes to the question of drug tests and cheating, most of Lance Armstrong's previous explanations, threats and lawsuits have all been designed to protect a carefully constructed and, as it turns out, fabricated image.

He has destroyed the careers and credibility of too many others in a selfish attempt to perpetuate a decade's worth of heartfelt and utterly convincing lies.

So, no, I don't have a ton of interest in hearing what the disgraced cycling champion has to say on this topic in a much-anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight.

His integrity already in doubt, his sincerity will forever be open to debate.

But what of his impact?

Far beyond the Tour de France titles and Olympic appearances is the legacy of Armstrong's foundation. His fundraising. His Livestrong bracelets and brand. His harrowing tale of survival that inspired cancer patients throughout the world.

Go back 10 years or so to an oncologist's office in North Pinellas. To a room where cancer patients gathered to have toxic meds pumped into weakened bodies.

Kit Meador was a nurse searching for ways to provide hope to the hopeless. Her interest in triathlons led her to Armstrong's website, and that is where she discovered the phenomenon of plastic, yellow Livestrong bracelets for cancer awareness.

Meador spent $100 to buy her first batch of bracelets and began handing them out to patients. Soon she had a vintage Lance Cookies jar in the office to raise money to buy more bracelets and spread the message of facing cancer by living strong.

"I see some of those patients today, years later, and they're still wearing their Livestrong bracelets," said Meador. "That's how much it has meant to them.

"What those bracelets represented is still very relevant to them. It's an indication of how they lived through some of the worst days of their lives, and how they want to continue living today."

The patients in those rooms may have only shared an enemy and a hero, but that was more than enough. Armstrong's name was as familiar as their disease. His books and story, too. It wasn't the mountainous route on the Tour de France that was important, but the journey Armstrong took to get there after a battle with testicular cancer.

At a time in their lives when there was little cause to be optimistic or thankful, it was Armstrong who provided a reason to believe.

"I understand how people feel about him today, but I see him through a different perspective," said Renee, a cancer survivor who asked that her last name not be used for fear her medical history might have repercussions in her new job. "His book helped me through some of those times. It helped me feel like I wasn't alone.

"I wear my bracelet every day. I don't take it off for any reason. It's more of a message than a reminder. It tells people you can beat this if you are willing to live strong."

If you watch Armstrong on TV this evening, you may find yourself wondering if it was all worth it. If the deceptions that made him rich and famous were worth the subsequent fall from grace.

To a certain group of people, it's not even a question.

"However many people he lied to," said Meador, "he helped far more."

John Romano: Lance Armstrong's reputation is ruined, but his impact is very real for some 01/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 8:22pm]
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