The 12th century philosopher Maimonides famously stated, "Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it." It was Betsy Andreu who introduced me to this wonderful truism. It is an appropriate place to start when talking about a woman who for nearly a decade was ridiculed and vilified for telling the truth about Lance Armstrong. At that time, Lance was the world's most famous and successful cyclist, prior to his 2013 partial confession on Oprah Winfrey's television show that he cheated to win the Tour de France.
As a cyclist myself, and one who has followed Lance's story in detail for almost two decades after he came on my radar, I was intrigued by the lessons we might learn from Betsy's journey.
Some quick background on Betsy: her husband Frankie became a friend of Armstrong's as both built their cycling careers in the mid-1990s. They were close, and Betsy and Lance became pretty close, too. When he was in hospital in late 1995 with testicular cancer, Betsy contends that Lance admitted to taking a range of doping products, including the protein hormone EPO (Erythropoietin), steroids, etc.
After his miraculous recovery from the cancer, he resumed doping, and even Frankie for a while joined in. There follows the story of Lance's seven Tour de France victories, then a failed comeback, and on until his confession in 2013.
Betsy refused to keep this dirty truth a secret though, and through interviews and depositions related to a host of legal actions, she became known as a crusader against the golden boy, then suffered years of bullying from Lance, who used words like "crazy," "jealous," and "psycho"--never mind "fat and ugly"--as he sought to continue to conceal a truth he would later confess to.
The impact on the Andreu family from the power wielded by Armstrong was massive--harming their reputations and standing. They endured nearly a decade where the truth was not believed by many, and it helped to mold Betsy in particular into a unique, fascinating, and engaging human being.
So what lessons can be learned from Betsy's journey over the past 20 years? I was lucky enough to be able to ask her about that, and also how those lessons might be relevant to the entrepreneurial community.
1. We all need support--it is hard to persist alone
I wondered if Betsy's extended family had been a great support network, and was surprised that she is more specific about where she found support. Her husband, who is much more laid-back, along with Irish journalist David Walsh and Travis Tygart, the head of USADA (America's anti-doping commission), were among her biggest supporters.
Betsy also got a lot of support from her faith--she is a Catholic. She talks of how worn some of her prayer cards have become as she persisted and endured.
2. Remaining positive and focused can be learned
Betsy learned quickly that her life and that of her family would be really difficult if she listened to all the negative (and wrong) voices--with many mainstream media channels taking Lance's word, and inferring and insinuating unpleasant things about Betsy.
Among the practical things Betsy did to remain positive was to avoid social media--she still has an AOL email address and no smartphone, even today. She allowed herself to live in the moment without being dragged into the parallel universe that was being painted in the media. And Betsy clearly wasn't perfect at shutting it all out. Alluding to the trolling of her which went on, she says, "I may be ugly, but I am not fat."
3. You can learn and grow from bad advice
Betsy learned a valuable lesson when she listened to a PR firm's advice to not take a seemingly great media opportunity to tell her side of the story on ESPN. They told her to shut up, rather than intervene at a time a new string of mistruths were being laid out.
The lesson Betsy learned was to listen to your intuition. She subsequently developed into a fantastic interviewee and spokesperson for her story and her causes. Over time, she developed into a highly credible media resource.
4. To progress you need to take risks
Betsy is now one of the most respected voices in the global battle against doping. Why? Because she did what none of the other wives or spouses in the cycling world have done before or since--she told the truth about the doping that was endemic in cycling at that time. And there are a lot of lessons here for those spouses in other sports where doping is endemic.
She unquestionably took a very large risk, not just in speaking out but by defending herself. She viewed the lessons she was laying down to other parents, spouses, and her own children as more important.
5. Truth is more powerful than anything
Starting from a position you are certain about is the most powerful ground. Even when being completely misrepresented, Betsy remained strong. It reminds me of the Mark Twain quote: "If you tell the truth, you don't need to remember anything." You can spend your life living in the present and focused.
Betsy told me she naively believed that telling the truth would be enough, that she would be believed and supported. None of that happened--for almost 10 years, until more and more evidence came out and it was impossible to ignore the truth about doping in cycling.
6. The majority is often wrong
If there is just one lesson you should take from Betsy, it is where this article began. The majority are often wrong. And if you are certain of that, just like those great minds who actually profited from the collapse of Wall Street, sometimes you just need time for everyone else to catch up to you.
Today, Betsy is one of the key promoters for True Sport, a USADA initiative that encourages schools and parents to focus on what the lessons from sports competition should be. Rather than focus on victory at any cost, True Sport is tackling the large and growing gap between parents' intentions and what is delivered.