Lance Armstrong has battled cancer, biked for hours on end and lost claim to seven Tour de France titles. He says he can’t count the number of times he has been called a “disgrace.” But on Thursday night at the Tejas house, Armstrong said he understands why — as a high-profile athlete and philanthropist, the stakes were high.
“It was destined to be that way,” Armstrong said. “I was destined to be called a disgrace.”
Armstrong — a former cyclist and founder of the Livestrong Foundation — spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of 200 students at the Tejas Club in West Campus. The event was one of the club’s weekly “coffees,” which connect students with the greater Austin community, Ethan Balsamo, accounting senior and Tejas Club president, said.
Fielding questions from students for the entire hour he stayed, Armstrong spoke candidly about his cycling career, his confession and life now — three years after his admission to doping.
One Tejas attendee asked Armstrong whether he felt guilty about his drug usage before he was caught. Armstrong said though he regrets his timing, doping was the norm during the mid-90s and early 2000s.
“Back then, none of us thought about that — absolutely not,” Armstrong said. “That was what was required to do to race at the highest level. … I would have loved to have been there when it was everyone just competing with their own natural skills — their own natural ability.”
Though doping allegations first stemmed in 1999, Armstrong continued cycling through 2011. After lawsuit prospects in 2012, he said he realized he had two choices: talk to lawyers or talk to Oprah. He chose the latter — the first time in which he would tell his story. He said his family didn’t ask him about doping during that time.
“When I spoke to Oprah and therefore spoke to the world, I was also speaking to my family,” he said. “In hindsight, it was probably not the right order.”
Armstrong said he still works to gain forgiveness for his actions. He now focuses on his family, his bike shop and cancer awareness. He takes pride that the Livestrong Foundation has raised more than $500 million for cancer research and support. He strives to be the best father of five he can — a role model for his children, a support system for his wife Anna, who also attended the event.
Connor Hughes, Plan II and biochemistry senior and Tejas Club vice president, arranged Armstrong’s visit. After promoting Livestrong’s treatment navigation services this summer as a member of the 2015 Texas 4000 team, he said he enjoyed hearing from Armstrong firsthand.
“It took a lot of courage and was really honest,” Hughes said. “We got to know him, his story, his perspective and him as a human being. Students thought it was very real.”
Tejas Club’s next coffee will be at 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8.