Tour de heart

July 26, 2005

LANCE ARMSTRONG'S heart is, literally, a third larger than the average man's. It can pump on and on at a phenomenal 200 beats per minute. His aerobic ability - the amount of oxygen his body can consume - is off the charts.

You can look all that up. For years now, the extraordinary functioning of Mr. Armstrong's lean, powerful body has been thoroughly probed and analyzed in an effort to explain how anyone could ride a bicycle as long, hard and fast - let alone after beating a cancer that not too long ago had been expected to kill him.

But physiology alone can hardly explain Mr. Armstrong's accomplishments: his return from near death to pedal to seven straight victories in the world's most grueling athletic event, the Tour de France, the more than 2,000-mile, three-week-long bike race.

Mr. Armstrong has prevailed not just by physical strength but his indomitable determination. He is the very embodiment of human will - of heart. He has become an American idol (with a name to match). Quite like no other, he even has come to be singularly associated with one color, yellow.

Back in the 1990s, he said he would beat the testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, and he did. Earlier this summer, he said he would win one last Tour, and Sunday he again stood on the winner's podium in Paris, wearing the race leader's yellow jersey.

His announced retirement - while he's still at the top of his game - is also something special. His intended transition to soccer dad may prove as challenging as any of the Tour's steep climbs in the Pyrenees Mountains, but he rides into it with a tremendous capacity for achieving good.

That already is evident in the yellow rubber bracelets that have brought at least $50 million to his foundation for cancer research and that everywhere hang from the wrists of believers, young and old, in his message, "live strong."

It may yet be that accusations of doping - unconfirmed through years of extensive testing - come somehow to tarnish Mr. Armstrong. Or that he now lowers himself to entering politics in Texas, as has been rumored. Or that he succumbs to some sort of celebrity folly.

But in a world with no end of limits - and limitations - Mr. Armstrong has provided a much needed reminder of the seemingly unlimited power of one man's dedication and heart.

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