Armstrong's recovery is bond between F1's Webber, Indy Nurse INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, June 11, 2002 -- The world sometimes can be so small. How else can you explain rookie Formula One driver Mark Webber of Australia and Indianapolis nurse Latrice...
Armstrong's recovery is bond between F1's Webber, Indy Nurse
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, June 11, 2002 -- The world sometimes can be so small. How else can you explain rookie Formula One driver Mark Webber of Australia and Indianapolis nurse Latrice Haney becoming friends because of three-time Tour de France bicycle champion Lance Armstrong?
Webber has never met Armstrong yet calls him one of his heroes. Haney not only had not heard of either Armstrong or Webber when she first encountered them, but their respective sports were strange to her, too. However, a set of unusual circumstances over a four-year period introduced her to both sports stars.
Webber, who drives for the KL Minardi Asiatech F1 team, visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 11 on a promotional tour for the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29. He attended the race last year as a guest of Renault and plans to be one of the 22 starters this year.
Also attending the trackside media luncheon at Webber's request was Haney. They posed for pictures and talked about their initial meeting nine months ago.
Webber calls Michael Schumacher his racing hero. But Webber also puts Armstrong, though he's only watched him race on television, in the same category.
Armstrong, from Plano, Texas, had just climbed to the No. 1 position in the world of bicycle racing in 1996 when he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to his lungs and brain when he was admitted to the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis for treatment. Amazingly, radical radiation and surgery removed the tumors, and from a 40-percent chance of survival he went on to become the greatest bicycle racer in the world.
Haney cared for Armstrong while he was in the hospital in Indianapolis.
"Just a phenomenal talent," said Webber, who became only the fourth Australian to score a point in F1 earlier this season.
"I follow cycling and what he has done, what he's achieved. And cancer is something that is close to me. My family has been hit by it quite hard, so it's pretty amazing what he's done. He's a hero, for sure. And I draw a lot of inspiration from what he's done."
When Webber came to the Speedway in 2001, he had read Armstrong's autobiography, where he learned Armstrong had been treated in Indianapolis and that Haney had cared for him. He contacted a number of the doctors who were involved with Armstrong's treatment and told them, 'Well done; what you did was amazing.' Then he called Haney.
"He said he was an avid fan of Lance Armstrong, that he was here for the race and sought me out," she said. "And we've been in contact ever since.
"I was very shocked. In fact, the only reason I believed it was because of his accent. I said, 'This guy must be from Australia, definitely.' I had never been to a Formula One race, and they just treated us like royalty, my husband (Randy) and I. It was so awesome."
Haney admits she had no idea who Armstrong was when he was admitted to the hospital. A doctor told her a bike racer was coming in with testicular cancer that needed immediate treatment.
"It was in the evening, and I said, 'I don't care who he is; he'd better hurry up so we can get started,'" she said. "Lo and behold, look at his career."
Webber hopes to meet Armstrong this summer in Europe or even possibly at the SAP United States Grand Prix. Armstrong lives in France during the summer, and Webber does a lot of bike training in south France.
"We don't want to blow this thing totally out of proportion," Webber said. "I'm not just thinking about him every day of the week. He's a great guy, really good."
Does Webber think Armstrong might know of him?
"I don't know," he said with a laugh. "He might follow Formula One; he might not."
Webber, now 25, departed his Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia, home for England at 18 to pursue his Formula One dream. He drove in various series and last year was a full-time test driver for the Benetton Renault Sport F1 team.
He also finished second in the FIA International F3000 series with the top Super Nova team.
He signed with Minardi for 2002 and stunned the F1 community in his debut by placing fifth and scoring two points in his first race, in Melbourne before his home-country fans.
"A lot of people say 'won,'" he said. "It's the same emotion. We might have as well won the race because people were acting the same as if we did.
"It was a really special day for me because of all the work and energy that went into trying to get my dream to drive in Formula One and, being my first race, I just wanted to finish the race.
"I went into the first turn, and I thought, 'God, if I go out now or the car breaks or something, this is going to be such a bad opening season.' So we go through, and after 40 laps, we're like sixth, then fifth, and I felt, 'God,' this unbelievable.' Then at the end it just happened, and it's just a fairy tale."
Watching the Australian Grand Prix -- her first F1 race -- on TV in America was Haney.
"Very exciting," she said. "I e-mailed him and congratulated him. I knew he was in Canada just last week (Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal where he finished 11th, one lap down). Yeah, it's been great incorporating new sports in my life."