An Essay by Lance Armstrong
For The World's Best Cyclist, Pleasure Comes From Pain. I
become a happier man each time I suffer.
Suffering is as essential to a good life, and as inextricable,
as bliss. The old saying that you should live each day as
if it's your last is a nice sentiment, but it doesn't work.
Take it from me. I tried it once, and here's what I learned:
If I pursued only happiness, and lived just for the moment,
I'd be a no-account with a perpetual three-day growth on my
chin. Cancer taught me that. Before cancer, whatever I imagined
happiness to be, pretty soon I wore it out, took it for granted,
or threw it away. A portfolio, a Porsche, a coffee machine--these
things were important to me. So was my hair. Then I lost them,
including the hair. When I was 25, I was diagnosed with advanced
testicular cancer, which had metastasized into my lungs and
brain. I sold the car, gave up my career as a world-class
cyclist, lost a good deal of money, and barely hung on to
When I went into remission, I thought happiness would mean
being self-indulgent. Not knowing how much time I had left,
I did not intend to ever suffer again. I had suffered months
of fear, chemotherapy so strong it left burn marks under my
skin, and surgery to remove two tumors. Happiness to me then
was waking up.
I ate Mexican food, played golf, and lay on the couch. The
pursuit of happiness meant going to my favorite restaurant
and pursuing a plate of enchiladas with tomatillo sauce.
But one day my wife, Kristin, put down her fork and said,
"You need to decide something: Are you going to be a
golf-playing, beer-drinking, Mexican-food-eating slob for
the rest of your life? If you are, I'll still love you. But
I need to know, because if so, I'll go get a job. I'm not
going to sit at home while you play golf."
I stared at her.
"I'm so bored," she said.
Suddenly, I understood that I was bored, too. The idleness
was forced; I was purposeless, with nothing to pursue. That
conversation changed everything. I realized that responsibility,
the routines and habits of shaving in the morning with a purpose,
a job to do, a wife to love, and a child to raise--these were
the things that tied my days together and gave them a pattern
deserving of the term living.
Within days I was back on my bicycle. For the first time
in my life, I rode with real strength and stamina and purpose.
Without cancer, I never would have won a single Tour de France.
Cancer taught me a plan for more purposeful living, and that
in turn taught me how to train and to win more purposefully.
It taught me that pain has a reason, and that sometimes the
experience of losing things--whether health or a car or an
old sense of self--has its own value in the scheme of life.
Pain and loss are great enhancers.
People ask me why I ride my bike for six hours a day; what
is the pleasure? The answer is that I don't do it for the
pleasure. I do it for the pain. In my most painful moments
on the bike, I am at my most self-aware and self-defining.
There is a point in every race when a rider encounters the
real opponent and realizes that it's...himself. You might
say pain is my chosen way of exploring the human heart.
That pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour,
or a day, or a year, but eventually it subsides. And when
it does, something else takes its place, and that thing might
be called a greater space for happiness. We have unrealized
capacities that only emerge in crisis--capacities for enduring,
for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time
we overcome pain, I believe that we grow.
Cancer was the making of me: Through it I became a more compassionate,
complete, and intelligent man, and therefore a more alive
one. So that's why I ride, and why I ride hard. Because it
makes me hurt, and so it makes me happy.
In July, Lance Armstrong won bicycling's Tour de France for
the third year in a row, despite having an advanced stage
of testicular cancer five years earlier. He created the Lance
Armstrong Foundation, which helps people manage and survive