Grand Junction, East Middle School.
She is 12 years old, and her mother is desperately trying to rally the world in order for her kid to get the attention she needs, ultimately to survive the disease. Because Delaney Clements has cancer.
Today Lance is paying a visit to her school. The girl has been at Lance and Anna’s summer camp for kids with cancer, and her wish is now to meet him. In person. Sure, said Lance, when he was approached. But then asked for it to be kept under the radar. Which means that local press might pick it up, because people tend to leak these things, but that’s all right, because Lance knows what he means to these people.
Support is what he means. But just as importantly, he might mean dollars. Not that people expect chunks of money out of him, they never ask, he says, but because he shows up, more of the community will also gather for the young girl, they might be chipping in, it’s the American Way, it even has a name – charity – something we in Europe know little of, where it is mostly a rich and famous people’s affair.
Before we leave Aspen in the morning for the two-hour drive, Anna’s friend in town has asked us to come around. She’s been making muffins.
“She’s not up, I bet. But I ain’t stepping out in the rain,” Lance laughs. More honk. A screen door opens, and a woman yells for him to come pick up the muffins. “Come on!” she says, “I have them right here.”
Lance rolls down the car window. “I can’t, baby. It’s raining. Also. The boys want to say hello!”
“No way, Lance! I’m in my night gown.”
“Laaance! Get out of the car!”
“Shiiiit,” he giggles. “Boys. She ain’t coming.”
Some hours later, after Lance has first done a friendly ride with old friend and former cyclist Scott Mercier, who helped set up the thing today, we pull up outside the school. Lance says all right. “All right,” he says.
“What’s going to happen now?” I ask. So far we have been with him in only familiar surroundings; in Aspen, where he is just part of a local family, in restaurants, where he is a regular. Now he is going out there in public as cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. As LiveStrong legend Lance Armstrong. As seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
“You’ll see. The usual.”
Inside a bunch greet us in Delaney’s classroom. The mother is going berserk, taking photo after photo, she also answers all Lance’s questions addressed to her daughter, but it’s okay. She is nervous. In fact, all seem nervous. And they just look at him, at Lance. The daughter has a huge smile plastered on her lovely little face to everyone’s joy. Of course. How perfect when children behave accordingly, her teachers seem much pleased, the principle appears to be very proud.
This is interesting. All the adults in the room are obviously well raised. This we can conclude. They know this is Delaney’s moment. So they back off. Everything else would be totally inappropriate. So they stay in character, they are at work, being teachers and so forth. But if you look closely, all are fighting not to sneak in photo-ops and ask for autographs. Luckily the mother does it for them. She is behaving like they’d like to also, but have no reason to. Secretly, right now, cancer aside, they might be envious of her, even of Delaney.
Anyway. A weaker crowd would have thrown themselves at Lance given the chance, as we’ll get to see a little later down at the school cafeteria.
Lance plays it perfect. Here is a father of five working a room. We get to see first hand why the cancer society loves him so much. He knows how intimidating it is for these folks to sit down with a genuine superstar, so he asks this. He asks that. Involve all. Fool around with the kid. Making them relax.
From Rouleur issue 52.