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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profile of Christopher Reeve, Lance Armstrong

Aired April 17, 2004 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he once soared as Hollywood's superman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: It's all right. There's nothing here to be worried about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But his life would change in an instant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you miss most about your old life?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REEVE: The spontaneity.

ANNOUNCER: He hasn't walked in nearly a decade, but he's a powerful force pushing the limits of medical research.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARTHUR CAPLAN, BIOETHICIST: Scientists can get angry. They start to say, you know, stop yelling at me. I'm going as fast as I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The fastest cure may come with stem cell research, a Pandora's Box full of ethical questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOHN MCDONALD, REEVE'S NEUROLOGIST: It's a revolution that's about to occur and we're missing out on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The story of Christopher Reeve, a tale of courage, pain and survival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: How close did you come to committing suicide?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Then, he's an athlete who has pushed the boundaries of human endurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the most competitive person I have ever met.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: He would learn how to overcome a tough childhood from those who loved him most.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDA ARMSTRONG KELLY, LANCE'S MOTHER: I would have a bad day and he'd say, "Mom, you know, why don't you just quit?" And I'd say, "Son, you never quit."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: His brash style took the cycling world by storm. But a battle for his life would become his ultimate endurance test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY JENKINS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Lance didn't beat cancer. He kicked it to death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: What's behind his will to win? Five-time Tour de France champ, Lance Armstrong. Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. A hero is someone who is courageous, someone who perseveres and overcomes incredible odds. Christopher Reeve fits that definition. He's not only played the ultimate superhero on screen, he also has come to represent to many a hero in real life. Reeve has turned a tragedy into a crusade. And he's pushing the boundaries of medical science which, in turn, is stirring a great deal of debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Two-thousand four began with a big bang, a quantum leap in the world of science.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am happy to announce...

ZAHN: From South Korea, a scientific first, the cloning of the human embryonic cell. It was the incredible breakthrough many had been dreaming of, a way to generate cells to repair diseased tissues. But to many religious and political groups who oppose all cloning this stem cell development was an ethical and moral nightmare. Scientists now had their recipe for cloning human embryos. A concoction in a Petri dish, vital stem cells could be captured. The very cells that may one day do the impossible, allow the paralyzed to stand, to walk away from their wheelchairs.

Actor, Christopher Reeve, a victim of a spinal cord injury, has been waiting for just that day. He has not been waiting quietly.

REEVE: As a patient, as someone sitting in a wheelchair, it's our prerogative to push. Think about the urgency; think about people who are suffering.

ZAHN: Christopher Reeve is the quadriplegic everyone knows. The man who once could fly, but now can no longer walk, nearly motionless but not sitting still.

MCDONALD: I have to say without a doubt that there's no question that he's one of the best things that's ever happened for spinal cord injury research. He's put it on the map. He's increased funding dramatically.

ZAHN: But Reeve is not without his critics.

CAPLAN: Sometimes his rhetoric gets over the top. You hear things like, if we could get this research going, then we could cure people in two years or people would be walking. Look, it's research. It may not work.

ZAHN (on camera): You've gotten involved in a highly political charged environment of talking about stem cell research. How many people have you ticked off along the way?

REEVE: Certainly, the entire religious variety, a lot of social conservatives, probably a lot of scientists, and some people in the disabled community who think that I shouldn't be going around talking about a cure.

ZAHN (voice-over): As Christopher Reeve talks today about his hopes, his dreams, his fears, he's speaking without his ventilator, his constant companion for nearly a decade.

(on camera): Is it a form of liberation?

REEVE: If the nurses would go away. But they're all over me like the Secret Service. It's ridiculous. I've had a couple of times that I choked a couple of times because breathing and eating, I had to relearn how to do both.

ZAHN (voice-over): Reeve has been on this difficult learning curve since May of 1995.

REEVE: And anybody's life can change in an instant. ZAHN: That day he fell off his horse and never got up again. That day Christopher Reeve's physical world vanished with a broken neck and completely frozen body, images of a once active happy life, slipped away. Once again, he was as helpless as a baby.

BARBARA JOHNSON, MOTHER: He was a good natured baby, an easy baby, a big baby.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Christopher Reeve was born in New York City on September 25, 1952, to Barbara and Franklin Reeve. When the couple met, his father was a 23-year-old poet and scholar. His mother, a 19-year-old student at Vassar College.

When Chris was 4, his parents divorced. He and his brother moved to Princeton, New Jersey, with their mother, but the boys' bond to their father never diminished.

JOHNSON: They visited their father. Chris' father taught him skiing and sailing.

ZAHN (on camera): You were a physical guy?

REEVE: I always wanted to be really proficient at whatever I did not give me a fight. Just goofing around and stuff, that to me is not fun. Really learning to do something well, that's fun.

ZAHN (voice-over): And Reeve found his fun acting in the local theater.

REEVE: And my family's situation was kind of disruptive. And I grew up between two households. So the people down at McCarter Theater in Princeton really became like a family to me. It was just a wonderful, comfortable, exciting place to be.

ZAHN: A young John Lithgow directed the young Christopher Reeve in three plays.

JOHN LITHGOW, ACTOR: I think he was 16, 17 years old, and he had decided, he absolutely knew, he wanted to be a theater actor. He looked like a Greek god. You know he looked beautiful.

ZAHN: After high school, Reeve headed to Cornell University where he continued his drama studies. In his senior year, Reeve was accepted at the prestigious Juilliard School. Reeve, the straight laced preppy, became best friends with the only other advanced student at Juilliard, a wild free spirit from California.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, COMEDIAN/ACTOR: And I would go over to Chris' apartment just to kind of hang out with him and borrow his food. Borrow is a nice way of saying eat it. And he kind of kept me alive the first special especially, you know, kind of counseling me through relationships and falling in love with an actress!

ZAHN: Just out of Juilliard, Reeve auditioned for a part playing Katharine Hepburn's grandson on Broadway.

REEVE: During the audition, I was trying to curry favor. I said, "Miss Hepburn, my grandmother, Beatrice Lamb, was a classmate of yours at (UNINTELLIGIBLE)." There's a pause, and then I hear from the darkness, "Oh, Bea, I never could stand her." OK. Now, I got to start my audition.

ZAHN: In the end, he got the part, just 23 years old, Christopher Reeve had arrived.

Still ahead, a comic book character flies off the page and into film history only to crash back to earth.

REEVE: I turned to Dana and said, "I'm probably not worth having. You know we should probably let me go."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN (voice-over): Superman, the comic book hero first came on the American scene in 1938. Forty years later, the icon flew on to the big screen. The cast of "Superman: The Movie" was extraordinary, jam packed with acclaimed actors. Joining them was a handsome newcomer tapped to play the hero in blue tights.

(on camera): Was that the role of a lifetime?

REEVE: I didn't think so at the time. I had never been a fan of the comic book. I didn't know much about it. Some people said it would sink my career.

ZAHN (voice-over): Reeve was flown to London for a screen test.

REEVE: I realize there must be many questions about me the world would like to know the answers to.

ZAHN: Although pretty skinny and so nervous, he sweat right through his costume, he still managed to play the caped hero with dignity.

REEVE: You really shouldn't smoke, you know.

Whether you're doing Henry James or you're doing Superman, you got to approach it with the same integrity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Jim.

REEVE: Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a bad outfit.

ZAHN: Opening on Christmas Day, the high budget film set box office records. Moviegoers around the world bought into the film's maxim. They believed a man can fly.

REEVE: Easy, Miss. I've got you.

MARGOT KIDDER, ACTRESS: You've got me? Who's got you?

ZAHN: While shooting the Superman series in London, Reeve met modeling executive, Gaye Axton. They had two children together. But after 10 years, they called it quits.

REEVE: We had a lot of wonderful times. All through the Superman years, but ultimately it wasn't something for a lifetime.

ZAHN: Every summer, Reeve returned to the Williamstown Theater in Massachusetts for summer stock.

REEVE: There is splendor here.

ZAHN: It was in Williamstown in 1987 that the commitment-shy Reeve...

REEVE: I wasn't looking for a relationship.

ZAHN: ...met and fell in love with Dana Morosini, a singer and actress.

REEVE: I was really stunned by everything about her and we...

DANA REEVE, WIFE: Talked for an hour, just stood there and talked for an hour. He kissed me on the cheek and he left. And that was the beginning.

ZAHN: Five years later they were married and soon baby, Will, joined them. They had promised to love each other in sickness and in health until death do us part, a promise soon tested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome now one of our two final entries. Here is entry No. 103, it's Christopher Reeve.

ZAHN: Reeve was an accomplished equestrian, having learned to ride while making the television movie "Anna Karenina." By 1989, he was competing. By all accounts, Reeve's life was right on track but then his life changed dramatically.

JOHNSON: He told me about this horse show he was going to be doing. And I remember I said to him, "Be careful." And it wasn't something I usually said to him.

ZAHN: It was May 27, 1995. Reeve had entered an event in Calpepper, Virginia, a small town outside of Charlottesville. The perfectionist Reeve had planned for every jump.

(on camera): You had gone out and methodically checked the course, made a map, you had studied it, you had walked it.

REEVE: Right. Right. I just didn't pay attention when I went back. ZAHN (voice-over): Without warning, Reeve's horse had put on the brakes, refusing to jump fence No. 3. With his hands tangled in the bridle, Reeve flew over his horse and slammed head first on to the top railing of the fence. His helmet prevented brain damage, but Reeve's neck was broken and his head was dangling just barely connected to his spine.

Fifteen-year-old Matthew and 11-year-old Alexandra Reeve rushed to the hospital only to get the worst of news, their father was unconscious, paralyzed from the shoulders down. It wasn't clear how long he would live or even if he would want to.

JOHNSON: I remember distinctly thinking that Chris would rather not live than be in this condition. I felt fairly convinced of it.

ZAHN: On life support, Reeve writes that it was his wife Dana who insisted that no plug be pulled until he awakened. Five days later, he did.

(on camera): Would you be alive today if it weren't for Dana's love?

REEVE: No.

ZAHN: How close did you come to wanting to commit suicide?

REEVE: About a day. When I turned to Dana and said, "I'm probably not worth having. You know, we should probably let me go."

ZAHN: And what did Dana say to you?

REEVE: That it's your choice. It's your life. But you're still you and I love you.

ZAHN (voice-over): Today, the Reeves live north of New York City in a beautiful farmhouse, their horse stable empty. It's been nearly nine years since Dana convince heard husband to live, nine years since he's put his arm around her, nine years since he sailed, nine years since he's flown, nine years since he's hugged his children. But Christopher Reeve hasn't given up, not even in his dreams.

(on camera): What do you dream about?

REEVE: That I'm never disabled. I'm always fully able. So they take me back to sailing, to doing a lot of things with the family. Gosh, I thing a couple of nights ago I was in an underwater distance swimming competition.

ZAHN: Wow! That must have felt good.

REEVE: I won by about a minute.

ZAHN: Did you feel triumphant when you woke up?

REEVE: Absolutely. I won.

ZAHN: It's all about the ribbon with you, isn't it?

REEVE: It's very simple, you win or you lose, you know.

ZAHN (voice-over): When we return...

(on camera): When do you see yourself walking again?

REEVE: In the next three to five years.

ZAHN (voice-over): Christopher Reeve insists nothing is impossible. Not everyone agrees.

CAPLAN: I'm a proponent of stem cell research. I think we should be doing it. But I can't promise that anybody will walk.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Christopher Reeve enters a medical minefield when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, but first Superman's lady love faces a medical crisis of their own. That story in this week's "Where Are They Now?"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REEVE: Easy, Miss, I've got you.

KIDDER: You've got me? Who's got you?

ANNOUNCER: Despite critically acclaimed roles in the mid 1970s, actress Margot Kidder will always be remembered as Superman's main squeeze. Kidder played the role of Lois Lane in all four superman movies. So where is Margot Kidder now? After Superman, Kidder made a string of forgivable movies like 1980's "Willie and Phil".

KIDDER: You know, what was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sex, sex?

ANNOUNCER: She's kept acting, though. She starred in the made- for-TV movie, "Crime in Connecticut" in 1989.

KIDDER: I heard that.

ANNOUNCER: She also had a recurring role on the sitcom, "Boston Common."

Kidder made headlines off screen in 1996; her battle with manic depression became public after she was found wandering nearly unrecognizable and incoherent, hiding under a stranger's porch in California. Kidder rebounded and spends time promoting the use of alternative medicine in mental health.\

Our profile of Christopher Reeve will continue after this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: How much work is it to be Christopher Reeve?

REEVE: It's a lot of work. I'll tell you. It is.

ZAHN (voice-over): Nine years after his nearly fatal accident, Christopher Reeve is a man with an agenda.

REEVE: I'm pushing science as hard as possible.

ZAHN: That hard, absolute resolve coming from a famous man in a wheelchair isn't always welcome, especially when it concerns stem cell research.

CAPLAN: Scientists always get nervous when someone comes along and says go faster. And Christopher Reeve is a guy who says go faster. I need help fast. I'm speaking for many others who can't wait. Will you get on with it already? I'm skeptical.

ZAHN: Arthur Caplan is a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.

CAPLAN: If I was Christopher Reeve, I'd realize that yelling at the scientists for stem cell research isn't very productive. You've got to yell at the politicians. You have to yell at the religious community. You have to yell at the media, because they're the road blocks.

MCDONALD: What Chris is trying to do, he's not trying to bully the scientists. He's trying to change the environment such that scientists can take more risks.

ZAHN: Dr. John McDonald began working with Reeve soon after the actor did something he had been told he would never, ever do again, move.

REEVE: I suddenly found in 2000 I could move my index finger.

ZAHN: Reeve wasn't even expected to live after his accident and now five years later, he was moving a finger that was supposed to be frozen forever. Shocked, Dr. McDonald ordered Reeve into his lab for brain tests.

MCDONALD: It meant that this was a door opening up and that now we need to really work. And that's exactly what he did.

REEVE: Oh, man, that was hard work. ZAHN: What was happening? Were the nerves waking up or being rerouted? Dr. McDonald isn't 100 percent sure. It remains a mystery. But Reeve continued to push himself. One day in 2001, he went swimming ventilator and all. When buoyant, Reeve comes alive. He can walk, if others hold him up and he can make a snow angel, rippling smooth water with his arms. Once numb, Reeve can nearly now feel everything, including the soft touch of his children. In 2000, Dr. McDonald told CNN he thought Reeve's recovery might be boosted with stem cell therapy.

Breathing off a ventilator or perhaps use of a hand. This step wise improvements are huge changes in a person's quality of life. And the ultimate goal is not really walking.

ZAHN: Four years later, Reeve is still waiting for his stem cell therapy.

MCDONALD: Well, I think we've made advances at cell culture in the animal level with stem cells but not much with human stem cells. In fact, we really haven't gotten anywhere.

ZAHN: Politics and science have collided leaving America's Superman in a fight for his life.

In 2001, citing ethical considerations, President Bush banned federal funding for research involving new embryonic stem cell lines. Last year, the House passed a bill to end all cloning, including cloning for therapeutic reasons. Religious and anti-abortion groups say such laws must be created to prevent slipping down the creation slope towards cloning a human baby. Bioethicist, Arthur Caplan worries breakthrough technology has opened up a Pandora's Box full of new ethical questions.

CAPLAN: You can imagine the desperation. I come out and say, I've got something that's looking very good to fix spinal cord injury. Would there be any shortage of people lining up to say I'm next? Who owns this technology? Is it going to be patented? Are we going to share it? Can people move cures along quickly or are we going to say, I'm sorry, it's a South Korean company. You want our stuff, you don't have the money. See you.

ZAHN: The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation supports such research. Founded five years ago, the foundation offers millions of dollars in grants each year to scientists willing to take risks to better patients' lives.

(On camera): When do you see yourself walking again?

REEVE: Well, I know I said on my 50th birthday. Well, we missed that. So it's going to depend on politics, on money, on popular support, on our willingness to take reasonable risk.

ZAHN: What are you thankful for?

REEVE: I'm very thankful that I can look at the future with genuine hope.

ZAHN (voice-over): And hope, even the smallest glimmer of it, is vital to victims of spinal cord injury.

In his latest audio book, Christopher Reeve talks about the day all hope seemed lost, a violent day at sea when he was just 25 years old. REEVE: The storm came from the north that reached us just before dark. The rain came first and then the following, seas rose until they towered above us. And we weren't maintaining a course. We were just trying to survive. And then we saw the light. At some time, often when we least expect it, we all have to face overwhelming challenges. It is very tempting to give up. Yet, we have to find the will to keep going, to endure, to heal and to love. Once we choose hope, everything's possible. We're all in this sea together, but the lighthouse is always there, ready to show us the way home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The focus of Christopher Reeve's battle to survive is shifting away from Washington. Several states including New Jersey, Reeve's home state, now allow research using stem cells from human embryos.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, he's back in the saddle and gearing up for a record sixth shot at the Tour de France.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: That is what keeps Lance motivated, the thrill of being No. 1 and winning that race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A new romance and another shot at victory for cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

Lance Armstrong is more than an athlete, more than a champion. He is a survivor. Armstrong's will to win, his will to live, have inspired those far beyond the world of sports and cycling. And Armstrong is going for an unprecedented sixth Tour de France championship this summer. But for a man known for his consistency, there have been a lot of changes in his life recently. Here's Sharon Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What does it take to spend three weeks in agony, enduring hour after hour of pain, racing more than 2,000 miles with a bull's eye on your back?

JENKINS: He's got an absolute willpower to do anything he puts his mind to.

COLLINS: What does it take to battle a disease that is conspiring to kill you then ride with the hopes and dreams of so many cancer survivors on your shoulders? DOUG ULMAN, LANCE ARMSTRONG FOUNDATION: It's the way he lives his life. It's you know, don't dwell on the negatives, you got this disease, what are we going to do to get past this.

COLLINS: What does it take to work harder, train harder, race harder, live harder than anyone else?

BILL STAPLETON, ARMSTRONG'S AGENT: Lance is constantly in search of excellence and being better.

COLLINS: What does it take to be Lance Armstrong?

KELLY: Lance was a high-energy young man. Definitely like a little tornado coming into a room.

COLLINS: Lance Armstrong was born in 1971, and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. His mother, Linda, gave birth to him when she was just 17 years old.

KELLY: I had every excuse in the world to fail. Having a child at 17, and I was determined that this would not be failure for me. And the fact that I had a child, and I was a child, was the greatest thing that I could have ever wished for. And I'm proud that that happened.

COLLINS: Armstrong's parents divorced when he was a toddler. His mother remarried when Lance was 3.

JENKINS: The father issue in Lance's life is more about the absence of one. His real father evaporated before Lance was even a conscious human being. And then his stepfather was Terry Armstrong, and he had a pretty fructuous relationship. Lance is not fond of him. They had some real tension when Lance was growing up.

COLLINS: The bond between mother and son, however, was unbreakable. An independent young woman teaching her child as she herself learned about life.

KELLY: Many a time, we would sit down and talk at the end of the day over dinner. And, you know, I would have a bad day. And he would say, "Mom, you know, why don't you just quit?" And I said, "Son, you never quit."

LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: She taught me a lot growing up. Of course, normal things that parents teach their kids, but a lot of it just more mentality and attitude.

COLLINS: The Armstrongs lived in Plano, Texas, a mostly upscale area just outside of Dallas. Lance didn't fit in.

JENKINS: He was a kid who didn't have the kind of money that kids around him had. He didn't come from the right kind of parents. He didn't have a country club membership. He didn't play football in Texas, which was the thing to do. He was always on the outs, you know. He's an outsider. And I think that in some ways it was the making of him.

COLLINS: To escape, Armstrong would turn to his bike.

JENKINS: A bike is a great instrument for a runaway boy. And that's a bit of what Lance was. You know, he was trying to run away from some problems maybe, trying to run away from Plano, Texas maybe. He got on that bicycle, he was free.

COLLINS: As a teenager, Armstrong competed in triathlons, running, swimming, biking and beating competitors years older than he was.

ARMSTRONG: That's what gave me the biggest hesitation about entering cycling. I thought, well, you can't make a living doing that. I'm making a living now doing triathlons. I don't want to do that. I can't make a living. I was wrong, I mean, obviously.

COLLINS: Armstrong was invited to train with the Junior U.S. National Cycling Team, and moved into the sport full time. He was a brash young rider who knew only one speed -- all-out, and who seemed to ride with a chip on his shoulder the size of his home state.

KELLY: There's that little tornado that just fills that big urge to go off and show everybody, hey, watch me, I can do this. And, you know, heck, he had the confidence. He thought he could do it. And there's nothing wrong with that.

ARMSTRONG: I didn't really know a lot about traditional tactics. It's a very traditional sport, and I came in with all this sort of this -- sort of this American attitude, that I don't care about your tradition.

COLLINS: In 1992, Armstrong made the U.S. Olympic team, but finished a disappointing 14th. He turned pro and promptly finished 111th, and last in his first professional race.

His next race, however, he came in second.

CHRIS CARMICHAEL, ARMSTRONG'S COACH: Early in his career, he was very, kind of -- had a sort of a cocky attitude, and head-strong about the way he wanted to do things. But, you know, the interesting thing is, most of the time he could back it up with some excellent results.

COLLINS: At age 21, Armstrong became the youngest man ever to win a stage of the Tour de France, and would later capture a Cycling World Championship as well. He was young, rich, and appeared destined for greatness.

JENKINS: Eddie Murks (ph), the world's greatest cyclist ever predicted for years that Lance would be a Tour de France winner, when he lost some weight and settled down and focused. The real question mark was whether he was ever going to work hard enough to fulfill his potential.

COLLINS: But when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues...

ARMSTRONG: On Wednesday, October 2, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. COLLINS: Lance Armstrong comes face to face with death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Imagine being an elite athlete, capable of pushing a bicycle, pushing your body to nearly super-human levels. Then imagine finding out you're very human indeed.

ARMSTRONG: Naturally, my first question was is, to myself, and to the doctors, when am I going to die?

COLLINS: Twenty-five-year-old Lance Armstrong was entering the prime of his career when he was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery removed his cancerous testicle. Armstrong vowed to beat the disease.

ARMSTRONG: I'm entering this battle in probably the best shape of my life. This ain't going to stop me. And I might have a bald head and I might not be as fast as I used to go, but I'm going to be out there.

COLLINS: However, doctors soon discovered Armstrong's battle was bigger than they previously thought.

DR. CRAIG NICHOLS, ARMSTRONG'S ONCOLOGIST: He had presented with a mass in his testes, and at that time when it was discovered, he had had spread to his abdomen, to his lungs, and to two small areas in his brain. Literally, this is something that untreated or undetected would have swept over him in a matter of weeks.

COLLINS: In fact, Armstrong's chances of surviving were at best 50/50.

KELLY: What did I say to Lance, was that I love you, and we're going to beat this. There's nothing worse than someone getting sick, and to have it be your only child. That wasn't going to happen. That just wasn't going to happen.

COLLINS: Armstrong underwent additional surgery to remove the tumors in his brain, and began intense chemotherapy. The hours of pain he'd experienced on a bike paled in comparison to the ravages of the disease.

ARMSTRONG: It doesn't compare to cancer, to the anguish, to the depression, to the confusion, to the torture of 12 weeks of chemotherapy. It's small.

KELLY: He had lost all of his hair. He had big dark circles under his eyes.

STAPLETON: He never lost his fighting spirit, his attitude. But his voice would shake. He lost a lot of weight. He was bald. He had scars on his head. He looked like a cancer patient that was going to die. COLLINS: But Armstrong didn't give up. In February 1997, after undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy and months of anguish, Armstrong's cancer was declared to be in remission.

JENKINS: He has no idea why he survived. Nor does anyone else, really. What part was science, what part was something bigger than science, what part was self-will and self-determination, he can't tell you what that mysterious calculus was. Not only that, he doesn't want to. He enjoys the mystery of it.

ARMSTRONG: I feel humbler now, more vulnerable.

COLLINS: A few months after finishing chemotherapy, Lance Armstrong could be found relaxing at his waterfront home in Austin, Texas.

ARMSTRONG: He survives cancer and dies from pneumonia.

COLLINS: He was healthy and strong enough to water ski uncertain about his future as an athlete.

ARMSTRONG: I don't think I can win the Tour de France. But I thought I could. You know, a year ago, I certainly thought I could win the Tour de France. It's not that year, but in years to come not now.

COLLINS: What was certain was that Armstrong had changed.

ARMSTRONG: Twelve months ago, my priority -- my No. 1 priority in life was cycling, and being successful, winning bike races. Of course, now, I could put the bike up forever, and never touch it again, and it wouldn't affect me whatsoever.

COLLINS: Armstrong took a year off then began an uneasy comeback, one filled with stops and starts, ups and downs, as he wrestled with his body and mind. Eventually, his focus became clear.

JENKINS: What cancer did for Lance was give him a reason and an excuse to finally settle down and really become everything he should have been.

CARMICHAEL: He realized he had this second chance. And that he was going to seize it, and he wasn't going to blow it, and that he needed to be thoroughly committed and dedicated to the second chance.

COLLINS: Cancer had reshaped Armstrong. His broad-shoulder triathlete build was gone. So were nearly 20 pounds. Considerable weight when you make a living climbing mountains. Perhaps more importantly, cancer had reshaped Armstrong's mind.

ARMSTRONG: Psychologically, it was a good thing for me, to be so scared and so fearful, to be given another chance.

COLLINS: After months of rigorous training, Armstrong entered the 1999 Tour de France. He was considered to be beyond a long shot but those who knew what he had been through knew better. KELLY: I said, you know, you're so sick in that bed; there is nothing that will keep you from going up that mountain, when you think about how sick you were.

COLLINS: Over three weeks, Armstrong rode more than 2,200 miles, over grueling terrain, overpowering competitors like he had overpowered cancer. At the race's end, Lance Armstrong wore a yellow jersey. He had won the Tour de France.

CARMICHAEL: I remember watching him come down the Champs Elysees and crying and just being like, man, this is -- I mean, this is just a miracle.

KELLY: Lance Armstrong puts his mind to something, and it's -- that's all it takes.

COLLINS: For Armstrong, victory meant more than one man beating the competition, or one man overcoming cancer. It was a victory for an entire community of which he was now a lifetime member.

ARMSTRONG: If the people can see one of their own, that was given not such a good chance of survival, see him return and thrive and be better than he was before, I think that's the most powerful message, and perhaps the one that they can get the most hope from.

COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, four more wins and a battle against drug allegations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Lance Armstrong's heart is so powerful and efficient, when he's standing still; it beats just 35 times a minute. Of course, when is Lance Armstrong ever standing still.

JENKINS: He's still a tornado. He leaves this wake of tumult. You know, when he moves through even a room, you know, things seem to fly up in the air and fly around the house. I mean, he's action boy.

COLLINS: Armstrong's victory in the 1999 Tour de France barely two years after beating cancer made him a household name, and captivated the world.

JENKINS: Lance didn't beat cancer, he kicked it to death. He didn't just survive it, he stomped that bastard into the ground, you know. And that's what turns people on.

COLLINS: For an encore, Armstrong won the Tour again in 2000, 2001, and 2002. And in 2003, he peddled his way to a dramatic fifth straight victory, becoming the second man in history to win five straight Tour de France titles, establishing himself as one of the greatest cyclists of all time, and a man who refuses to be beaten.

KELLY: No one ever remembers second place. And people always remember who's No. 1. And that is what keeps Lance motivated, the thrill of being number one and winning that race.

COLLINS: Suffering is the norm in cycling, but Armstrong's pain threshold is unmatched.

JENKINS: To me, that's what makes Lance tick as an athlete. The suffering is so intense on the bicycle that it's almost cleansing. It blocks out every other thought. It blocks out every other feeling. And in a way it's incredibly simplifying. It's a totally focused, a totally pure endeavor. And he loves it.

COLLINS: When Armstrong is not on the bike, his life isn't quite so simple.

During his run of Tour de France victories, Armstrong has battled rumors, fanned by the French press, that he must be using performance enhancing drugs to perform so well. Armstrong has forcefully denied the allegations.

ARMSTRONG: You know, it's -- I've never failed to control. And that's not an excuse. That can't be my defense. But there's been a lot of controls. All clean, totally negative. The facts are overwhelming. And you know what, people love facts. And they will believe in those, and they will trust those. And that's why I'm absolutely comfortable talking about these things.

COLLINS: Lance Armstrong would also face challenges within his family life. A month after finishing chemotherapy, Armstrong met his future wife, Kristin. The couple married in May 1998. They now have three children, a boy and twin girls.

ARMSTRONG: I have a little boy who is 3 years old and he can completely reason with me. He'll sit down and say, "No, dad, this is what I'm thinking. This is my idea." I mean, that is pretty hard to beat when you've got a little boy, or a little child that can actually sit down and communicate with you.

COLLINS: In fact, Armstrong's family life seemed so perfect; it came as a major shock when he and his wife briefly separated in February of 2002.

JENKINS: I was surprised they hadn't had more problems, to be frank. You know, as a friend of theirs and as an observer, watching what they were trying to do, the amount of work both of them were taking on, and the amount of travel and the amount of training, and the intensity of their lives.

COLLINS: The Armstrongs celebrated Lance's fifth Tour de France win last July together. But within weeks, announced they were divorcing, bringing an end to their five-year marriage.

With his personal difficulties behind him, 2004 has put Lance Armstrong back in the spotlight as he gears up for a sixth shot at the Tour de France. It has also brought a new romance with musician, Sheryl Crow. The couple who met last fall at a Las Vegas charity benefit have moved in together to Lance's house in Spain where he is training for the Tour de France.

As he prepares for the upcoming race, Armstrong still finds time to lead the fight against cancer. He's established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which focuses on cancer survivorship and sponsors an annual charity ride through Austin, Texas.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lance Armstrong.

COLLINS: He serves on the president's cancer panel. And he gladly accepts the burden of being a symbol of hope for cancer patients everywhere.

ARMSTRONG: Something as simple as riding a bike, racing a bike, trying to win bike races, doing something like that and changing somebody's life is -- or affecting their life, it's pretty mind- boggling for me still.

JENKINS: There's a big misconception about Lance Armstrong's interaction with other cancer patients and the misconception is that he does it for them. He doesn't do it for them. He does it partly for them. He does it for himself. He helps him as much as it helps them.

Whenever he's low about something, whenever he's doubtful about something or unhappy about something, the one thing that always puts that guy back on his feet is talking to somebody with cancer.

COLLINS: Lance Armstrong may be known as a Tour de France champion, but there's another title, one which may be the most important of all.

ARMSTRONG: In 10 years time, I won't be doing this anymore. And I won't be known as a cyclist, and I won't be known as somebody that wins bike races. I'll be known as Lance Armstrong. And hopefully for a long time to come I'll be known as a cancer survivor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Lance Armstrong has been training for the Tour de France in Europe, but he's back in the U.S. at the moment, visiting his children and getting ready to take part in a six-day, 649 mile race in Georgia that starts on Tuesday.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, America's No. 1 shock jock, Howard Stern. He collides with the FCC and the fight over indecency. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Be sure to stay with CNN for the very latest on what's happening in your world.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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