Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins

It’s Not about the Bike

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It’s Not about the Bike Summary

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It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life is a memoir by cyclist Lance Armstrong and sports writer Sally Jenkins. It was published in 2000, before the performance enhancing drugs scandal that led to Armstrong being stripped of his titles. It deals with Armstrong’s battle with cancer and his determination to become a top athlete in his sport once more. In 2013, Armstrong confessed that some of the doping accusations against him were true, meaning that some sections in It’s Not about the Bike are untrue.

Lance begins the book by explaining that he always took it for granted that he would live a long life since he was a healthy athlete who took care of his body. In 1993, at the age of 21, he is already a World Cycling Champion. Over the subsequent few years, he begins having many worrying physical symptoms, including an inflamed testicle, weakness, and body aches. However, since he is determined to race in the Tour De France and the Olympics, he ignores his symptoms.

When he is unable to finish either race, Lance finally admits that something is wrong. He goes to Dr. Rick Parker and the urologist Dr. Jim Reeve who diagnose him with testicular cancer that has metastasized into his lungs. At first, Lance is more worried that the cancer will end his cycling career than that it will kill him, but he quickly learns he has only a 40 percent chance of survival. He is terrified to tell his mother that he might die.

Lance’s mother is named Linda Mooneyham. She is a single parent who receives no support from Lance’s father. Fortunately, Linda’s family supports her and Lance however they can. There is a bike shop down the street from Lance’s childhood home, and Linda buys him his first bike when he is seven. Lance loves running and swimming, and he has the drive to excel in all sports. When he is still a teenager, he begins to enter triathlons with older and more experienced racers, sometimes winning sums of money that he uses to help support the family.

In 1990, Lance is invited to compete in a cycling competition in Moscow. His district does not allow him to miss school, but Lance goes to the competition anyway and impresses the international coaches. When he returns, he learns that his school will not let him graduate. Linda is able to get him into another school in time to graduate.

Lance admits that his biggest problem when he first begins racing professionally is that he doesn’t know how to pace himself. He loses many races because he rides too hard at the beginning and doesn’t have the endurance to finish. His first major victory is in Oslo, with his mother watching from the stands. After he wins, Lance is escorted to meet the King of Norway, and insists that his mother accompany him.

Lance begins his cancer treatment, but receives a blow when he learns that the insurance from his cycling team will not cover it. He begins working with Dr. Wolf, a cycling fan who promises he will use treatments that will maximize the chance Lance can return to cycling. Lance learns that the cancer has reached his brain, which makes him even more determined to beat it.  He receives an optimistic treatment plan from Dr. Einhorn at Indiana University and begins chemotherapy.

Chemo is difficult but Lance knows that he has to feel like he is dying for a while if he is going to have any chance of living. Though he feels weak, the treatment is working. Lance is able to ride his bike a little during this time, though he is discouraged because he is nowhere near racing condition.

The cancer is soon in remission, and Lance meets Kik Richard, the woman he will marry. Lance loves her, but is worried that the cancer will return. However, after the cancer has been in remission for a year, Lance decides that it is time to move on with his life. He marries Kik and the two move to California so Lance can begin training intensively.

It is difficult to get back into shape and Lance is discouraged when he doesn’t rank highly in races. He is considering retiring, but his trainer convinces him to do one more high-profile race, in which he places fourth. Lance decides to continue racing and also to try for a child. The baby has to be conceived with sperm that was frozen before Lance’s cancer treatment since the chemotherapy rendered him sterile.

Lance begins training for the Tour de France. He does well during the trials and feels like he is getting  stronger. When he wins the Tour de France, his popularity skyrockets. He receives sponsorships from Nike and other companies. Around this time, Kik gives birth to their first child.

He competes in several subsequent Tour de France races. Each Tour de France means that Lance has been cancer free for another year. After a while, he notices that the press no longer focuses on his cancer diagnosis. Lance is glad, but he’s conflicted because he knows that cancer had a huge role in shaping the person he is now.