Livestrong charity vows to carry on after Armstrong

CHICAGO (AFP) - The anti-cancer charity founded by disgraced US cyclist Lance Armstrong will survive despite the doping scandal that forced Armstrong out of the organisation, Livestrong Foundation's boss said on Thursday.

"Will the Livestrong Foundation survive? Yes. Absolutely yes," Mr Andy Miller, head of Livestrong operations, said in what was billed as a "major" speech at the foundation's annual meeting in Chicago.

"Our work is too meaningful, our role too unique, the need too great, to stand for any other answer."

Armstrong was stripped of seven Tour de France titles last year after a United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report put him at the center of what it called the biggest doping conspiracy in cycling history.

In a January television interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong ended years of denials and confessed he used performance-enhancing substances to help him win the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005.

Armstrong founded Livestrong in 1997 after he underwent chemotherapy to overcome testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and other parts of his body.

The Usada report forced him to step down last year as Livestrong's chairman and later resign from its board of directors, the triumphs that had inspired others to fight cancer having been revealed as a doping-aided hoax.

"Our success has never been based on one person," Mr Miller said. "It's based on the patients and survivors we serve every day who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance," Mr Miller said.

"Resiliency is the ability to not only overcome challenge and crisis, trauma and tragedy, but also to bounce back stronger, wiser and more impactful than ever."

Armstrong visited the Livestrong staff at their headquarters in Austin, Texas, to formally apologise for letting them down, saying to Winfrey that it was one of the hardest things he had to deal with in the wake of the scandal.

"It was the best thing for the organization but it hurt like hell," Armstrong told Winfrey. "That was the lowest."

Livestrong, which has raised more than US$500 million (S$620 million) and served 2.5 million people affected by cancer, said it hopes to expand its services to directly help more than 15,500 cancer survivors a year.

It also hopes to expand the use of its self-navigating tools like resource guides and a popular calorie and exercise tracker to 1.5 million users a year, Mr Miller said.

Hundreds of volunteers and staff members gathered in the conference ballroom welcomed Mr Miller's determination to move the charity forward.

"I've been waiting to hear this," said Ms Ashleigh Moore, 54, an Australian volunteer who has survived three bouts of cancer and helps to run an advocacy group in Adelaide which partners with Livestrong.

"It really invigorated the passion in a lot of people," Ms Moore said.

"Livestrong is going forward with renewed energy."

Angie and Jerry Kelly said they've fielded a lot of questions from friends and neighbors in Alabama since the doping scandal enveloped Armstrong and the foundation.

The dominant question, they said, has always been to make sure both they and Livestrong will keep working to help those affected by cancer.

"It's doing too much good and helping too many people and there's too much of a need around the world so it has to go forward," said Mr Jerry Kelly, 45, who has survived both testicular cancer and melanoma and volunteered with Livestrong for the past 13 years.

While Armstrong served as a major source of inspiration when her husband was first diagnosed and raised the foundation's profile over the years, Ms Angie Kelly said she has "no doubt" that Livestrong will survive without him.

"It's about more than just one man," she said. "There are so many other stories we share."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.