Life without Lance: how Livestrong managed to carry on

Armstrong's cancer charity shows extraordinary resilience following shock doping allegations

by Sarah Barth   April 5, 2014  

Lance Armstrong Livestrong speech You Tube still

The CEO of Livestrong, the charity formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation for people affected by cancer, has spoken of how he managed to carry on after the doping confessions that rocked the cycling world.

When the USADA report dropped on his desk, Doug Ulman said his unwavering belief in Lance’s innocence was finally breached.

“That was the first moment when I realized, OK, it’s true,” he told The Slate. “Then, it was just pure adrenaline."

"I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard enough about it to know that even if 50 percent of it is true, it’s true," he told his staff from the first moments.

It was another three months before Lance himself apologised to his 100-strong staff, 13 of whom subsequently resigned.

But the ramifications were more than dented pride. Since 2012 the charity, which has raised more than 500 million dollars in cancer caring funds, lost sponsors including Nike, Trek and Radioshack. Revenues from donations have dropped by up to 20 per cent.

But Ullman, a cancer sufferer himself, was never tempted to give up on the charity.

“Regardless of what anyone says, Lance Armstrong has been one of the most tireless and effective cancer advocates in the world,” Ulman wrote in a June 2012 blog post, after the USADA first leveled its charges, accusing Armstrong of using, possessing, and distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

Other employers were less blinkered. “I wasn’t under any illusions,” says Livestrong’s IT administrator, Willy Snell.

“You could look at what everybody else in cycling was doing and put two and two together.”

“Some people were crying, some were angry,” Michael Nestor, a member of Livestrong’s human resources team, remembers. “Some were shell shocked.”

“I didn’t really see it as an apology,” Allison Watkins, Livestrong’s director of brand partnerships, says. “I was like, ‘How can I really believe anything you’re saying, or your sincerity?’”

One member of the public showed similar emotions - sending the charity back a box of cut-up rubber wristbands.

“I don’t think I ever felt betrayed,” Ullman says though.

“Were there points when I was upset? Disappointed? Frustrated? Absolutely. But I was not angry at him.”

But with $107 million in assets stashed in the Livestrong coffers, the charity’s remaining staff soon found there was much to work for.

One project has been working with the University of Texas at Austin’s new Dell Medical School, where Livestrong has been helping design its new cancer center as a model of care for hospitals and clinics around the world.

It’s all progress towards the future, and cleaning up the charity’s name. A sort of truth and reconciliation process?

“My biggest fear is that people internally will always compare us to the past, and I don’t think that’s a fair comparison,” says Ullman.

“It’s never going to be the same. In the future, could it be better? It could be.”

10 user comments

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Why are you still giving this idiot column space?

posted by Welsh boy [102 posts]
5th April 2014 - 20:43

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Welsh boy wrote:
Why are you still giving this idiot column space?

I think you will find that the article is about the charity not Armstrong. The charity does great work and deserves to be supported. They were a victim of Armstrong, far more directly than you.

posted by paulrbarnard [113 posts]
5th April 2014 - 20:52

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it is debatable as to whether this charity does " great work". it does not support research into the causes or treatment of cancer, instead concentrating on advocacy, advice and support. Arguably, that is money wasted that could be going towards defeating cancer. More significantly, IMO, it perpetuates the myth that those who are strong willed enough may have more chance of survival than those who are not ( literally " to live strong"). This message may help some sufferers. It does enormous harm to others. I would never support this charity. I do support other medical charities that provide research grants and do not take this judgmental stance towards their patients.

posted by philtregear [72 posts]
5th April 2014 - 22:45

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"following shock doping allegations"

where exactly was the shock? Rolling On The Floor

posted by pondlife [16 posts]
6th April 2014 - 0:09

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It's about cancer not the cyclist.


posted by Airzound [274 posts]
6th April 2014 - 0:22

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philtregear wrote:
it is debatable as to whether this charity does " great work". it does not support research into the causes or treatment of cancer, instead concentrating on advocacy, advice and support. Arguably, that is money wasted that could be going towards defeating cancer.

I'm sure people suffering from a devastating disease don't find much needed advocacy and support money wasted.


Beefy's picture

posted by Beefy [112 posts]
6th April 2014 - 18:12

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I'm not sure how I feel about them as a charity, but in fairness they don't make any claims to supporting research due to the sums of money involved - instead they put that towards supporting those who are suffering or have in the past.

And as Beefy said, those who are gong through it now, will certainly appreciate the support now.

Racer 074 for the 2014 Transcontinental Race; 2,000 miles from London to Istanbul.

posted by themartincox [330 posts]
6th April 2014 - 18:23

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I have read claims that the money doesn't go where they want you to think it's being spent.

And why does a charity have $107 million in assets?

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1941 posts]
7th April 2014 - 10:05

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Simon E wrote:
And why does a charity have $107 million in assets?

Among other things, charities use endowments to finance both future work and current grants and stipends. They provide a level of stability, allowing long-term employment of staff.

I.e. charities use endowments the same way a start-up uses a war chest: To do the work.

There's nothing dodgy about that at all.

posted by jacknorell [340 posts]
7th April 2014 - 10:39

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The charity was abused by Armstrong in many ways. In 2009 Livestrong paid for a big $6M party in Ireland, which was 20% of the revenue of that year. How did that help fight cancer? Armstrong also used to go to charity events in Livestrong gear and would then pocket the appearance fees, even though the organizers thought it would go to the charity. Expenses to travel to these places were paid by Livestrong. That is a pattern that keeps coming up, the expenses are for the charity, but the income went to LA. For instance, the lawyers that Lance used to defend from doping allegations were paid by Livestrong.

Another example is that there is a Livestrong company (the .com) and a charity (the .org). So people will buy stuff from the company, thinking it goes to the charity. The company benefits greatly from the marketing efforts of the charity. So again, the marketing costs (which are a huge part of the charity budget) are paid by the charity, while Armstrong can pocket money intended for the charity.

posted by Aapje [167 posts]
7th April 2014 - 11:39

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