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NASHVILLE (BP)—Riding alongside Lance Armstrong for 10 miles, brothers Jedidiah and Caleb Coppenger sought to share their faith in 2006 with the now-disgraced cycling legend.
Armstrong, who was cycling in the annual 450-mile ride across Iowa known as RAGRAI, was in a pack of enthusiasts until a serendipitous crash left the brothers beside the cycling legend.
“On a turn in one of the pass-through towns, a cyclist lost control and wiped out most of the bunch," their father, Mark Coppenger, who also was a RAGRAI participant that year, recounted. “Caleb and Jed managed to weave through the wreckage and then find themselves riding right beside Armstrong for almost 10 miles.”
The brothers decided to make the most of the opportunity to speak with Armstrong, who had just retired from professional cycling after winning seven straight Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005.
After some brief small talk and thanking him for his work on behalf of cancer research, the brothers brought up their faith.
“We asked him if he was a Christian and he told us no," Jedidiah Coppenger, now a church planter in Nashville, recalled.
“We told him that we’re not just against certain manifestations of death [such as cancer, which Armstrong had battled], but the whole thing. Since Jesus has overcome death in all its ugly wholeness, we’re all about taking on death itself.”
Jedidiah Coppenger, who also is an acquisitions editor for B&H Publishing with LifeWay Christian Resources, said Armstrong “graciously dismissed” their conversation and then moved on.
As Mark Coppenger, now on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s faculty, ponders, “You can’t help but ask, ‘What if?’ when you think of his opportunity to respond to Christ that day.”
Armstrong, now in the media glare, has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to win the most coveted prize in professional cycling. Even after being stripped of his titles last year, he had continued to deny using banned substances.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong said he had taken “a ruthless win-at-all-costs attitude” in his renewed training in 1998 after battling cancer to compete for cycling’s top prize.
For Jedidiah Coppenger, Armstrong’s answer was not surprising.
A former college athlete himself, Coppenger noted, “Our culture is obsessed with glory and fame.”
“Outside of Eden, every culture has been driven to make a name for themselves apart from God.
“With modern technology providing greater platforms for recognition and modern science providing the ability to enhance performance, our fallen hearts will do whatever it takes to be ‘great.'"
Georgia pastor Tim Dowdy, who has competed in triathlons, the same sport in which Armstrong began, agreed with Coppenger.
“In sport there is always the challenge of being competitive," Dowdy said.
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