Associated Press file photo
Associated Press file photo
CHICAGO – Leaders of the cancer charity founded by Lance Armstrong said Thursday that the organization will persevere in the wake of the cyclist’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
“I am on safe ground to say that the past year did not go as planned,” Livestrong’s executive vice president Andy Miller said at The Livestrong Foundation’s annual meeting in Chicago – its first such gathering since Armstrong’s troubled departure. “Things happen that we cannot control – cancer has taught us that. What do we do? We adapt.”
He added later, “The Livestrong Foundation is not going anywhere.”
Livestrong’s president, Doug Ulman, echoed that sentiment in prepared remarks for the more than 500 participants.
“Our success has never been based on one person,” said Ulman, who was unable to deliver the speech in person because of travel delays. “Will the Livestrong Foundation survive? Yes. Absolutely, yes. Hell, yes.”
Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the charity in October, saying he didn’t want his association to damage the foundation’s ability to raise money and continue its advocacy programs on behalf of people with cancer.
Among the steps the organization is taking to establish a new identity is to change its day of action each year from Oct. 2 – the date in 1996 that Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer – to May 17, the group announced Thursday.
On that day in 2004, the charity launched their trademark yellow Livestrong bands. Since then, 87 million have been sold, Katherine McLane, the group’s executive vice president for communications, said.
“The foundation is charting its own course without the founder since its inception,” she said in an interview. “It’s a challenge. It might be a rocky road in 2013. But we are thinking in terms of the next five years.”
There has been no indication, she said, that donors are distancing themselves from the charity as a result of Armstrong’s fall from grace. The $48 million that Livestrong raised in 2012 was down 2 or 3 percent from 2011 but consistent with slight drop-offs other foundations saw in a still-struggling economy, she said.
The cyclist created the organization – originally called the Lance Armstrong Foundation – in Austin, Texas, in 1997 while he was being treated for testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. Doctors gave him 50-50 odds of surviving.
Armstrong won seven Tour de France titles – all of which have been stripped. He has also been given a lifetime ban from sports.
Throughout his career, Armstrong always denied drug use, but earlier this year, he admitted during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
He told Winfrey that leaving Livestrong was the most “humbling” experience after the revelations about his drug use broke.
“I wouldn’t at all say forced out, told to leave,” he told Winfrey about Livestrong. “I was aware of the pressure. But it hurt like hell.
“That was the lowest,” Armstrong said. “The lowest.”
Armstrong’s personal fortune had sustained a big hit days before the interview as one by one, his sponsors called to end their associations: Nike, Trek Bicycles, Giro, Anheuser-Busch.
“That was a $75 million day,” Armstrong said.
“That just went out of your life,” Winfrey said.
“Gone,” he replied.
Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm.