Danville's Bob Hammer, like Lance Armstrong, fought -- and beat -- testicular cancer. He's conflicted on how to view the maligned cycling star after his reported confession of doping. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang reports.
Lance Armstrong is familiar with climbing steep hills – but this time, the uphill battle is not in his control: how the public and the professional cycling community will react to his reported admission of doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey Monday.
Experts have said the alleged confession is likely an attempt at getting back into the competitive cycling world. Armstrong’s former teammate and Northern California native, Levi Leipheimer, admitted to doping last year. His six-month ban is set to end in March.
But Bob Hammer has a personal take. The Danville father of two survived two bouts of testicular cancer, undergoing 26 rounds of chemotherapy in 2000 going into 2001. He credits Armstrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) for helping to pull him through one of the toughest times of his life, in addition to the steadfast support of his wife and daughter.
The Hammers went on to create the “Have a Ball Foundation,” which holds golf tournaments in Sunnyvale and Danville each year. They said the foundation to date has raised $1.3 million since 2005, with almost one-third of it going to Livestrong. However, when doping allegations strengthened, the Hammers said they saw the writing on the wall and began to shift more of their attention to local organizations, a move they had already started to make.
In fact, after meeting Armstrong several times, the Hammers admit that he was all “celebrity.” Bob Hammer compared Armstrong to Barry Bonds, both with the reputation for not only doping, but not being quite personable. “Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds, they got the hand that’s dealt because people were not going to give up on them after how they treated people over the years.”
Still, they insist that the foundation will always donate to Livestrong for all that it and its people have done for them. And despite Armstrong allegedly confessing to doping, the Hammers are steadfast in their support of his work. They say these are two completely different issues: the athlete disappointed, but the cancer community hero has made an indelible mark.
“He inspired Bob during chemotherapy. Nothing is scarier than being told you’ve got a very small percentage of making it and reading Lance’s book – thanks to a friend providing it during his chemo treatments – really, really helped him a lot,” said Kim. “Point blank he was a big inspiration, which thrilled us to no end because it made him fight for his life, and he won.”
Kim added, “Shame on Lance, but in the same breath, congrats to him for his fight with cancer. It’s thanks to that that we are where we are now.”
And that’s not even the biggest reason for the Hammers’ gratitude.
It was back in 2001 when the Hammers met Armstrong – who had his oncologist with him. He told Hammer not to undergo the surgery that was just 48 hours away, a surgery encouraged by some Stanford doctors. “The surgery was going to make it so there’d be no more kids. You could be paralyzed,” recalled Kim Hammer, Bob’s wife. “It was all bad news so with not having surgery, we got pregnant.”
“There are moments in our life where you’re reminded of what you have and how it got there, and that’ll never go away.”