Why do people wear the yellow wristbands? You don’t see them as much anymore, and it prompts me to wonder: what are the reasons behind the wearers of yellow wristbands today? You see them on Senator John Kerry, Lakers star Derek Fisher, a number of professional cyclists. My cousins wear them now. They are a family of baseball players, and they didn’t used to wear the bands when they first came out. So why now? What does it mean to them?
The rubber bracelets were a stroke of genius—an effective fundraiser and promotional symbol for the Livestrong Foundation founded by Lance Armstrong to support those facing cancer. In the foundation’s partnership with Nike, over $80 million has been raised, largely from the sale of over 70 million bands. So a lot of that was $1 at a time.
I got my wristband on the Champs Elysees in 2004. It was my second trip to the Tour de France, and on several stages of the Tour, I had seen cheerful young people in Livestrong t-shirts selling them for one euro each. Usually, I am a sucker for souvenirs from a big event like the Tour, but I thought the bracelets looked cheap and goofy. Yet as I strolled the Champs Elysees on the day of the grand finale, I noticed many people in the gathering crowds were wearing them and standing in line to buy more. Nearly all of the American fans had them on. It started looking like the bands were a symbol of respect for Lance, his triumph over cancer, and remarkable fifth Tour victory.
With that, I was sold, so I stopped the next cheerful Livestrong girl and bought three yellow wristbands. I promptly put on a band, joined a group of guys in Texas hats (though they turned out to be British), and watched Lance and the peloton ride their victory laps. Over my final days in Paris, spotting another passerby wearing a wristband was spotting a like-minded cycling fan, or even more so a Lance fan. When I got back home, I gave one of the bracelets to a co-worker and sent another to a friend in Chicago. The wristband trend was just starting to break, and people couldn’t even get a hold of them. My Chicago friend told me he was in a corporate meeting when an exec asked him where he managed to get his band. From a friend, he replied with pride, direct from the Champs Elysees.
I developed some strong superstitions about my yellow wristband. While I wanted to wear it everyday, I was afraid that it would be damaged by the elements. I limited my band-wearing to the cycling season, when I kept it on religiously (except when showering—again, damage from the elements). As a Lance fan, sporting the bracelet was my way of sending him some moral support, good wishes in the atmosphere, positive thoughts for his success. If he was competing, I was wearing my bracelet.
I had a cancer scare, and Lance’s success was personally meaningful to me. The yellow wristband was a precious reminder that I was okay, that Lance was inspiring me with amazing athletic achievements, that I had traveled the world, that I had been in Paris for Lance’s fifth win when I bought that band. If I ever lost it, I would be devastated. It is so special to me.
Why the others? A little research reveals John Kerry had prostate cancer while his wife was treated for breast cancer. Derek Fisher’s young daughter faced cancer of the retina. I will have to ask my cousins why they were the bands, though it makes sense that the bracelets are worn by cancer survivors and their families. There are 28 million people living with cancer worldwide, and I know that thanks to the Livestrong Foundation and their yellow wristbands.
Do you wear one? Why?