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Life without Lance: how Livestrong managed to carry on

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

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.”

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