A champ’s coach, pit-crew and cheerleader | VailDaily.com

A champ’s coach, pit-crew and cheerleader

Brenda Himelfarb

n Linda Armstrong Kelly’s world everything is possible. Words and phrases such as “no way,” fudgedaboudit,” “out of the question,” and “hopeless” are just not part of her vocabulary ” and never will be.

Kelly, a native Texan with a drawl to prove it, considers herself an optimist and a realist.

“What it comes down to is this: sometimes you find yourself in a mess,” Kelly says. “It doesn’t matter if the mess was made by you yourself or somebody else. You have the same two options either way ” sit there feeling bad about the mess or get to work cleaning it up.

“I knew I’d be a rusty old skeleton on the side of the road if I waited around for someone else to show up and rescue me.”

And it is that attitude, that mindset that carried Kelly through the many challenges she experienced from growing up in poverty to being a teenage mother to supporting her son, seven-time Tour de France Champion, Lance Armstrong, through his battle with cancer, she says.

In her book, “No Mountain High Enough ” Raising Lance, Raising Me,” Kelly writes openly about her abusive father, unsupportive mother and her three failed marriages.

Yet, she says, these experiences helped form the values and self-determination that set the tone for a very unexpected journey.

After a brief marriage to her son’s father, a high school boyfriend, Kelly, then 17, and Lance moved in with her father and got a job at the post office dead letter department. She soon saved enough money to rent a small apartment.

“We were dead broke, but I didn’t have time for any pity party,” she writes. “I had a responsibility to this child. I was going to find him someplace safe and clean and then I was going to get a better job so I could get him out of this dump we were living in.”

Kelly says she was determined to have her son grow up in a “pretty house on a pretty street in Plano or Richardson or one of the other nice Dallas suburbs.”

And so began her upward climb. During her 15 years with Ericsson Microelectronics, first as a temp, then a secretary, Kelly rose to the position of global account manager.

Two more marriages ended in divorce.

Her priority was always her son, Lance ” from the football games to track meets to swim meets and, finally, bike races, Kelly was the faithful coach, one-man pit crew and cheerleader, she says.

It was as though Lance had only three gears ” sleep, eat and full-speed ahead. “Life became a spinning cycle of uber-projects for me and high-speed victories for Lance,” Kelly writes, “but we still made time to sit together most evenings.”

When Kelly received the call in October, 1996, that Lance had been diagnosed with cancer, she says, she began thinking like the project manager she was: How does this translate into quality and availability of care?

“The hardest thing” Kelly says, “was that I couldn’t have the disease and he was my only child and you quickly realize that you have no control over something as great as (cancer) is. It was so painful. I continued to talk about tomorrow and about the things we would do in the future.

“I did everything I could to not have Lance change anything and to keep doing all he loved to do as long as he could,” she says. “And I feel that was really key in his healing, but there were times when I saw him get to his low point that it was a struggle to find those words and keep as positive as I did”

Life has finally rewarded Kelly for all her hard work, devotion and strength of character. She was recognized as one of “America’s most fascinating women” by Ladies Home Journal and was the subject of biography on The Learning Channel: “Raising A Champion: The Linda Armstrong Kelly Story.”

“Boy, has my life changed since I married,” Kelly says. “I’m a full-time wife and am there for my husband, my children, my bonus kids and my grandchildren. I wasn’t able to do that before.

“Now, I fully understand how important it is to give back. I always say that, perhaps, if something changes in one’s life, there are doors of opportunity that open for you,”

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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