Wednesday October 24, 2012

As 11-year old Garrett Payer tended to his intern-like duties at Berkshire Bike and Board in Great Barrington, a Livestrong bracelet was wrapped around his wrist. The bracelets are sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise cancer awareness.

And though evidence from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says Armstrong and his teams participated in "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program," Payer will continue to wear the Livestrong bracelet just like he has ever since his friend gave it to him two years ago -- before Armstrong's accolades were wiped from sports history.

"I think what he did was dishonest, but it's still going to a really good cause," Payer said.

Armstrong, who still maintains that he has never doped, was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the International Cycling Union Monday and lost endorsements by Nike and Anheuser-Busch. He has stepped down as chairman of the foundation.

And yet, support for the iconic cyclist lives on in the Berkshires, even if it's met with a twinge of disappointment.

A poll on the Berkshire Eagle Facebook page, gauging readers if they would still wear their Livestrong bracelet in response to the controversy, showed an overwhelming support for the cause, as opposed to the four people who said they would no longer wear their bracelets.

One man jogging down North Street in Pittsfield on Tuesday evening had yellow, red and green Livestrong bracelets on his wrist. Efforts to catch up with him were unsuccessful.

Jon Kane met Armstrong about eight years ago at a race in New York City, he said. A lifelong road biker, Kane waited for Armstrong after his race. He may not tout a Livestrong bracelet, but his respect for Armstrong and his cause hasn't wavered much.

"He's still a great athlete either way," Kane said. "His accomplishments and the money he's raised plays a bigger role than if he doped."

Kane said that to strip Armstrong of his awards will be problematic, since the next few people down the line were also found guilty of doping.

An employee at Dick's Sporting Goods in Pittsfield said that at least two people in the past week have refused to buy the Livestrong-brand treadmills and opted for another brand of the workout equipment because of Arm strong's dishonesty.

A statement from the American Cancer Society says it has "witnessed Livestrong's powerful commitment to improving the quality of life of those with cancer, and fighting cancer globally," and that the organization's "contribution is sorely needed" in reducing suffering and death from cancer.

Payer said that, as a young biker himself, he'll continue to somewhat look up to Arm strong, but in a slightly different way."

"You could still do it, but you don't want to cheat like him," he said.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6214
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse