Doctors had told Ulman in August 1996 that he had a rare form of cartilage cancer. Rather than undergo chemo, he had part of his rib cage removed. "When I was diagnosed," he recalls, "I couldn't find any other people between 15 and 35 who had cancer." So he started the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
Ulman received two more cancer diagnoses over the next 10 months. Both times it was malignant melanoma; both times it was successfully excised. Despite these scares, Ulman helped Brown win three Ivy League soccer titles in four years. In 2001 he was hired by Armstrong, who describes him as "arguably the brightest young mind in this fight" and who cheerfully tolerates his chief mission officer's single shortcoming: Ulman is afraid to fly. He can bring himself to do it, but just barely. Early in the flight from Vegas back to Austin on Jan. 25 Armstrong asks the pilot to swing low over the Hoover Dam. The pilot takes a hard left, dipping the wing sharply, pinning the passengers to their seats and inducing near panic in Ulman, who shouts, "What's happening? Why are we doing this?"
Once the plane levels off, Ulman--having regained his composure and natural color--approaches Armstrong. The LAF's Washington-based lobbying firm has put together a dossier on Bolten, with whom they'll speak the next day. "Let's see," says Ulman. "Supposed to be a really nice guy.... He was executive director of legal and government affairs at Goldman Sachs in London.... Works till midnight.... Went to Princeton.... Likes motorcycles. Loves to bowl."
Armstrong nods. Considering the cost of the war in Iraq and the reconstruction of New Orleans, he doesn't expect much from the White House. And that's getting him worked up. "We're talking 1,500 people a day [dying from cancer], and it's not even on the political radar," he says. The problem, he goes on, "has been around so long, people have grown accustomed to it. They say, 'It's a shame. He was 75, he had prostate cancer, he didn't make it, but he had a good life.' Well, bulls---! He could've been 90 and been to another graduation, met his great-grandchildren."
Why is Armstrong so qualified to lead in this fight? Bono puts it this way: "We need winners advocating for the poor and the vulnerable. We need people who hate losing. Lance hates losing."
The voice on the speakerphone is Bolten's. He tells Armstrong and Ulman, who later summarize the call for SI, that he knows how much President Bush values his relationship with Armstrong. However, he says, "I cannot give you encouragement about what's in the '07 budget."
"Yeah," says Armstrong. "We had a feeling."
Bolten explains how long it takes to get a line item in the budget and says this budget was basically "written by September."
"That's why we asked in August," Armstrong replies.
Armstrong is sitting at a conference table in the offices of his foundation. At the far end of the table are four-year-old twins coloring furiously. Grace and Isabelle Armstrong are in the house.