An Open Letter to Lance Armstrong (UPDATED x 3)

05.7.2009 | 12:13 am

UPDATE 1: After writing this post, I re-read the ESPN piece and noticed the following quote from Lance:

“It could be a combination of people that have a shared interest in Livestrong and want to see Livestrong promoted around the world and believe in what we’re doing.”

It’s a vague, confusing quote, but could mean that instead of using LAF funds, he’s actually considering gathering together an independent group — not leveraging LAF — for the funds. If that’s the case (hard to tell because of other statements in the article, which he did not correct in his Tweet pointing to that article and rejecting only the final line of that piece), then this entire post is null and void, and I will promise to restrict my posts to stuff I know something about. Which, let’s face it, would definitely mean fewer and shorter posts.

UPDATE 2: Early this morning, the ESPN article was updated with the following:

“While as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Lance Armstrong Foundation would not be able to fund the day-to-day operational expenses of a for-profit endeavor,” Katherine McLane, communications director for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “We would certainly look for ways to develop a dynamic partnership to support the cancer mission and cancer survivors.”

This answers my concerns; I’m no longer worried that the money we raised could go toward a cycling team bailout instead of toward fighting cancer. Which means I wrote this letter (instead of the jokey piece I had in mind) and lost most of a night’s sleep (yes, really: I could hardly sleep at all last night because of this) over nothing.

Which is a huge relief.

I’m leaving the post up, however, because I still think one of the points remains valid. Specifically, if the cycling team is branded “LiveStrong,” they need to be very, very careful of appearances; most people won’t realize there’s a difference between the charity and the cycling team.

FINAL UPDATE: I just got the following email message from Katherine McLane, Communications Director at LAF:

Hey there! Read your posts this AM and wanted to let you know that the confusion is a result of a reporter drawing his own conclusions and running with them. At no point did Lance suggest pulling out the LAF checkbook! Clearly he was talking about finding sponsors and raising funds to keep the team afloat. Like I explained to the AP, we’re a non-profit organization and OF COURSE we’d love a world-class cycling team spreading the cancer message. We, quite literally, can’t buy that kind of exposure – because we’re a 501(c)(3)! Would we look for other ways to partner with them and support them? Absolutely!

My final thoughts:

  1. It’s very cool of the people at LAF to reach out and respond like this. Everyone I’ve talked with there has been incredibly helpful, and it’s clear they’re dedicated to this fight.
  2. This post was still worth writing, but I’m glad it was unnecessary in this case.
  3. I’m still totally on board for helping LAF raise money to fight cancer.
  4. I need a nap.

Dear Lance,

I just finished reading “Astana facing money trouble” over on ESPN. The story has two main points. One of them is that Astana has not been paying the team or staff lately. Which definitely sucks. A lot.

The other point in the article is that you’re considering the option of turning the team into Team LiveStrong for the rest of the season, funding it — if I understand correctly — out of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Before you do that, Lance, there are a few things I want you to consider.

Do Not Do This Just Because You Can

Turning Team Astana into Team LiveStrong would be easy to do. You’re on the team, and you have the money. Back in September, I even postulated that this is what you would (and should) do.

But that ESPN article has got me worried.

In it, you said:

“I’ve spent every day of the year with my soigneur [massage assistant] Richard, a Polish guy. He’s got a wife and two young kids at home and doesn’t get a paycheck,” Armstrong said. “I can pay his check, which will probably happen, but there’s 30 other staff in the same position and is that frustrating? Yeah. Very. This is not fair.”

Reading this, it sounds like one of your motivations for using LAF funds for this team is because you don’t like the thought of team staff going without paychecks.

This will sound callous, but that’s not a good enough reason. If the LiveStrong cycling team is about helping friends pay the bills, well, I’ve got friends who are hurting financially too, and I’d rather help them than your masseuse.

When I donate my money and time — and ask hundreds of other people to donate their money and time — it is because I have made a specific ethical decision: It’s more important to me to spend my money and time on fighting cancer than anything else. I have decided to use my money and time — both in short supply right now, thanks — to fight cancer. To save lives.

I have not decided to use my money or time to save your friends’ jobs.

It may sound like I am now condemning the Team LiveStrong concept here, but I am not. I’m for it, provided that the team mission is crystal-clear and measurable. And that mission must be the exact same one I’ve already committed to: fight cancer, help those who are fighting it themselves, and raise awareness of cancer detection and treatment options throughout the world.

If, before you sign the dotted line, you and the people at LAF — people I’ve come to admire a lot — put your heads together and approach the problem from the perspective of “Will this help LAF move our current mission forward?” as opposed to “Will this solve a financial crisis for a cycling team?” and you show us — the people who are working hard to make sure LAF has the money it needs to do its work — how a pro cycling team is a good use of our money (hint: having racers wear the jerseys as they otherwise conduct their lives as usual is nowhere near enough), I will continue to support you as strongly as I am right now.

But the case has to be strong, clear, and public.

Do the Math

I can think of only two reasons an organization would sponsor a cycling team: marketing and vanity. It seems possible — even likely — that a LiveStrong cycling team could be great marketing for LAF. It could raise awareness not just for discovering and fighting cancer, but even for raising additional money toward the LAF mission, especially outside the U.S., where cycling awareness is strong, but where LAF awareness and fundraising are comparably weak.

Or, on the other hand, it could be a complete money pit.

The truth is, it’s sometimes initially hard to tell which way a marketing initiative will go.

By the end of a half season, however, you should have good data on whether a LiveStrong cycling team is paying off. If you now decide it’s worth the risk (and can show why you think so), then find out later you were wrong, I will not be upset. You’ve got to take chances sometimes, and sometimes they don’t work out. However, if it’s clear that a cycling team is not at least paying for itself by bringing in increased donations or by accomplishing other LAF objectives more cost-effectively than the money would if used in another way, you’ve got to cut it loose.

I won’t participate in the funding of a multi-year experiment.

Remember and Respect Our Efforts

Here’s something to keep in mind as you consider team expenses: one of the people raising funds for you is my wife, Susan Nelson. She is living with metastatic breast cancer, spread all throughout her body and brain. Her time is precious, and she has spent hundreds of hours (and hundreds of dollars) working to raise close to $9000 for your foundation, making beautiful jewelry and giving it to those who donate.

She has chosen to spend her time this way because she cares deeply about fighting cancer.

If, when she watches the Tour de France this year, she sees an extravagant team bus or hears of lavish parties being thrown by the team, how do you think she will feel about the way she chose to spend her time?

Similarly, I have asked my readers, over and over, to donate generously. And I have asked companies to donate expensive products, in spite of the crummy economy. And they have, because they want to do the right thing, and they trusted that I have chosen a good, effective partner in fighting cancer.

Please, do not prove me wrong.

Lance, you and your organization have earned gratitude and respect from my readers and me for what you have done in the fight against cancer. If a pro cycling team is really the best — not just a convenient — use of that money toward fighting and eliminating cancer, I’ll get behind you.

Just make sure you are doing this to further the mission, and not just because it’s a handy band-aid.


Elden “Fatty” Nelson


If I Were A Runner, This Is Where I’d Run

05.6.2009 | 3:44 pm

I have tried running. Really, I have. I was in Track in high school (though I don’t know if the pole vault is really considered running). I’ve run a half-marathon. I’ve run a full marathon. One year, I even took to trail running so I could participate in the inaugural MXT – a short-lived (only happened once) IronMan-distance offroad triathlon (as opposed to my own Triathalon, which was more my kind of thing).

That said, I believe that I have made it clear: I am not a runner.

But if I were a runner, I’d sign up to run with Team LIVESTRONG and do one of the World Marathon Majors. Because, really, it would be kind of cool to be able to say that you had run the Boston Marathon (or the London, Berlin, NYC, or Chicago Marathon) and done something in the fight against cancer, all in one day.

And in the fight against cancer, the Lance Armstrong Foundation is a good partner. I’ve mentioned before that when Susan’s cancer came back, the Lance Armstrong Foundation was incredibly responsive with both support and information. And as other people have emailed me questions about where they should turn with their cancer diagnoses (one of the most painful and worthwhile parts of doing this blog), I’ve pointed them to the LAF.

And I’m always glad I do. Little by little I’m getting to know some of the people at the LAF, and every single one of them takes the fight against cancer incredibly personally. Personally enough to have made it their profession.

But it’s not just the intensity and the caring of the LAF that makes me like them. It’s the vision and scope. They’re big enough to make a big difference and have a big vision. They’ve raised $181,000,000 for cancer survivorship programs. They’re embarking on a push to make cancer a global issue.

That’s thinking big. And it’s a cause worth joining.

But I’m Not a Runner
Of course, I don’t run. And – oddly enough – some of you don’t ride bikes. But if you can ride, walk, or run, you can be part of Team LIVESTRONG. And might I suggest you join Team Fatty when you do? We’re in all four event cities: Seattle, San Jose, Austin, and Philadelphia. Team Fatty’s pretty proud to be part of the LIVESTRONG movement, and to be making a difference in the fight against cancer.

I’d love to have you along as we fight cancer together. No matter what distance you go or how you get there.

No, I Insist. YOU Go Ahead.

05.5.2009 | 9:21 am

A Note from Fatty: Congratulations to Heather Gilbert for coming up with the winning name for what we can now call the Kona Cadabra! And equally importantly, thanks to all of you for helping Heather win.

As promised — and talked about on Kona’s winner announcement — Heather’s giving it to me to raffle off for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Heather’s still nailing down the details about timing, sizing, and so forth, so expect this raffle to start sometime next week-ish.

As a fat cyclist (as well as The Fat Cyclist), moments of cycling glory seem to be few and far between.

But every once in a while, I do have one of those moments.

Like last Friday.

The Plan: One Continuous Flowing Descent

The climb up Hog Hollow seemed very difficult last Friday, as it has each time I’ve climbed it this year. Much more difficult than last year, and even more difficult than the year before that. As my knees pressed into my paunch, I tried to figure out why this was so.

Once I made it to the top of Jacob’s Ladder, though, I got the same rush of anticipation I always get when I have a giant slice of uninterrupted downhill ahead of me. Upper Jacob’s Ladder, Lower Jacob’s Ladder, and then Ghost Falls. And since I was by myself, there would be no stopping to regroup.

I planned to do it as one giant, continuous descent.

Really, there’s nothing better in mountain biking.

There’s been so much rain this year that the texture of Jacob’s Ladder is markedly different than usual. Where you can usually count on it to be very loose and gravelly, this Spring it’s been as close to buff as it gets. Which means you can tear down it.

Which I did.

As I rolled across the road that Lower Jacob’s Ladder empties onto, I was thinking the same thing I have thought after hundreds of good rides: “I love riding my bike SO MUCH.”

And yes, I really did think in bold, capitalized italics. When I’m emphatic, I’m very, very emphatic.

I Am Mr. Helpful Friendly Person

There, on the road, about to drop down Ghost Falls, were two more mountain bikers. I could tell several things just by looking at them.

  1. They were younger than I am. I’d guess they were in their mid-twenties. This was one certain indicator that I should let them go ahead. They almost certainly had more testosterone and less to lose than I.
  2. They were in better shape than I am. No paunches in sight.
  3. They had big-hit freeride bikes and were wearing body armor. Clearly, they were cyclists to be reckoned with.

So as a middle-aged, well-paunched, fully-rigidized-singlespeed-riding guy, I stopped, greeted them, then said the right thing.

“You guys go on ahead.”

“Are you sure?” they answered, but I could tell they were visibly relieved.

“Absolutely. I don’t want to hold you guys up.”

And so they took off.

And I followed right behind.

Caveats and Whatnot

There’s a lot of pressure to perform when someone has explicitly yielded pole position to you on a mountain bike downhill. That pressure frequently actually has a negative effect: you think too much, you’re not loose, and you don’t ride as well.

Also, Ghost Falls (as currently constructed) was built to be a cross-country trail. It has a few whoop-de-do’s and such, but I don’t think I ever think to myself as I ride down, “Boy I sure wish I had suspension right now.”

Could I get an “amen” from the locals on this?

And also, a little switch seemed to flip for me sometime last season and I have become a not-half-bad downhiller.

And finally, I have never ever ever been so comfortable on a bike as I am on my Singlefly. I’m going to have to do the complete writeup on my Singlefly thoughts soon, but the short version is: it’s an astoundingly good bike.

The Bottom Line

All these points made, however, the fact remains: these guys were outfitted for serious downhillng. And I’m a middle-aged guy who was riding a rigid singlespeed.

And I fully cleaned their clocks.

So fully were their clocks cleaned, in fact, that I started talking to the guy in front of me as we descended. Telling him about the new freeride trail, and how he should try it out. Telling him about other trails in the vicinity. Recommending local restaurants.

He pulled over and let me by.

His friend yielded shortly after.

And I finished the descent about as happy as I’ve been in months.

An Unfounded, Outrageous Claim

05.2.2009 | 7:20 pm

A few (OK, eight) years ago, Provo, Utah was bestowed a tremendous honor: it would be the newest host of an official Ironman. So of course, every local who had pretensions in any of the sports at least considered doing the race.

I, of course, was one of these people. I didn’t actually go so far as to sign up for the race, because that would have been exactly the same as telling my wife that I wanted a divorce. See, she was pregnant with twins at the time, and there was a reasonable likelihood that she’d either be on bed rest or delivering on race day (with twins, the delivery window is gigantic).

But still, I thought about it. And once, while Dug and I were riding the Alpine Loop together (on one of the parts where you can simultaneously talk and breathe), I made an outrageous claim:

“I think I could do an Ironman right now. No special training. Just pull it out of my butt.”

I wasn’t joking, but I said it in such a way that it could be treated as a joke. And I expected Dug to treat it as a joke. After all, I do make unfounded, outrageous claims from time to time.

“It’s funny you should say that,” replied Dug. “I’ve been thinking the same thing.” And we went on to discuss how a fit cyclist could just roll up to the starting line of an Ironman and do it.

The Swim

Gear is essential here. You’ve got to have one of those specialty triathlon wetsuits. Have you ever swam in one of those? It’s incredible: you’re instantly twice as good of a swimmer as you are in real life. You float better, you slide through the water faster, and they’re all set up to give your arms a good range of motion.

I can understand why triathletes get worked up about their wetsuits. There are probably gradations and subtleties of wetsuits they can get all geeked up about, just like cyclists get all obsessed with their bikes. The few times I swammed with those wetsuits, I swear: it was almost like I knew what I was doing.

Even so, as someone who hasn’t swummed much, I know I’d tire out before long. And that’s what the backstroke is for. Flop over on your back and just troll along.

Hey, we weren’t saying we’d win the Ironman.

The Bike

Acknowledging that we would be two of the last three out of the water, we’d quickly find our bikes (because there wouldn’t be any others left in the rack), eating a nice, healthy lunch before starting the ride.

Perhaps, just to underscore the fact that we weren’t taking this thing seriously, we’d wear baggy mountain biking shorts and ride full suspension mountain bikes for the ride (but we’d put on slicks and lock out the suspension). Maybe we’d wear those BMX-style helmets, too.

Turning a nice easy gear, we could ride a road century in our sleep (though that may increase our chances of missing a turn).

The Marathon

You see how I’ve cleverly avoided titling this section “The Run?” That’s because there’d be little actual running involved. It’d be more of a hobbling, wounded-animal limpfest that lasted five hours, at least. Probably six, to be honest. We’d walk 75% of it. But we’ve both done marathons before. We knew we could push through another.

And then we could say we’d done it: an improvisational, no-specific-training Ironman.

Deep Introspection

The thing is—and I have no way to prove it—I really do think a reasonably strong cyclist with endurance riding experience could pull off an Ironman without any particular training in the other disciplines. And by “reasonably strong cyclist,” I mean me.

So the big questions are:

  • Am I completely out of my mind, or is this possible? Both?
  • For cyclists, pure swimmers, and pure runners: Could you do an Ironman right now? For triathletes: Could you do the Leadville 100 or Cascade Creampuff today? (For the Leadville part, pretend that Columbine mine is not presently buried in deep snow.)
  • How much money would someone have to pay you to try? Would it need to take the form of a bet, or would it need to be straight-up payment?  

For myself, I’m thinking a $3000 bet would do it, but the guy betting me would have to pay my entry fee and buy me a wetsuit, which I get to keep no matter what.

PS: This post originally published May 2, 2006, in my Spaces archive. And also, right now I’m pretty sure I could not complete an Ironman.

Let’s Help A Cancer Doctor Fight Cancer In A Very Unusual Way

05.1.2009 | 8:47 am

UPDATE: The voting has evidently ended, so I’m de-linking this post. However, on Monday you’ll definitely want to check the Kona site to see the final verdict.

A Note from Fatty: In a very longwinded way, today I’m going to ask you to go to this contest page on the Kona site and vote for Cadabra as the name for their new bike. There’s a great story behind why, but if you’re in a hurry, just trust me and go to the Kona site, scroll to the bottom of the page, and vote for Cadabra. Thanks.

A Big Thanks from Fatty: The 100 Miles of Nowhere registration is now over. And now that it is, I’d like to admit something: When I started it, I did not think anyone would sign up. I mean, seriously: Ask people to pay $75 for the privilege of riding either their trainer or a very short course for a hundred miles? Why would anyone do that?

Well, the answer, of course, is that you would do it to help fight cancer. And because evidently you have the same twisted sense of humor that I have.

And, of course, you want the very cool stuff that the very cool sponsors are providing. So, I want to again thank Twin Six, DZ-Nuts, Banjo Brothers, Garmin-Slipstream, CarboRocket, ProBar and Clif for making an irresistable schwag bag.

Now, guess how many people signed up? C’mon, guess.

OK I’ll tell you: 421. Yes, that’s right. More than 400 of my readers have completely lost their minds. Please seek help immediately. It’s not too late. Well, maybe it is, actually.

And you know what, my crazy friends? You have used your insanity to raise more than $20,000 to fight cancer. Which doesn’t suck at all.

Let’s Help A Cancer Doctor Fight Cancer In A Very Unusual Way

Heather Gilbert is a doctor at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, specializing in the hematologic malignancies with an emphasis on lymphoma. She helped Susan when Susan was there for her hip replacement.

And Heather is also a self-admitted hardcore bikeaholic. Which I mean in the very nicest possible way.

In other words, Heather is the very best kind of person there is: A cyclist who has chosen to spend her life fighting cancer.

And she needs our help so she can do even more.

200905010839.jpgHelp Heather Name a Kona, Then Win That Kona

See, besides being a hardcore bikeaholic and cancer doctor, Heather is also very creative. She recently entered a contest to name a new bike Kona is coming out with. Her idea? Call it The Cadabra.

That’s a very cool name for a very cool bike.

And it’s also one of the finalist names in Kona’s “Name Our New Bike” contest.

So Heather has said that if she wins the contest — meaning she gets the bike she named — she will give it to me to raffle off to help Team Fatty raise money to fight cancer.

Let me recap: Heather — who fights cancer for a living — has a great chance to win a cool bike, thanks to her good idea. But instead, providing she wins, she’s going to give it to me to raffle off so one of you gets it, so we can raise more money to fight cancer.

Right this second I’m trying to think of something cooler than that, and I just can’t. There’s nothing cooler.

So let’s help her do that. Right now, go to Kona’s voting page, scroll to the bottom of the page, and vote for the Cadabra. It’ll take less than ten seconds.

At this moment, the two finalist names are tied right at 50%, so your vote is crucial. So go. Now. Shoo.

PS: Team Fatty Co-captain MikeRoadie has asked me to pass on the info for a fundraiser he’s doing:

From May 1st through June 30th, Hall Wines Napa will donate 25% of sale. Just enter code “livestrong” at checkout!

This is an opportunity for people to purchase some fantastic wines that are usually only available to the Hall Napa Wine Club members! Their incredible Cabernet Sauvignon is only $40!

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