AUSTIN -- Even before the sun was up Sunday morning, 4,300 bicyclist were ready to ride. Helmets were tightened, tires aired, LIVESTRONG shirts were on.
"Good morning and welcome to the 2012 LIVESTRONG Challenge," announced LIVESTRONG President & CEO Doug Ulman.
The LIVESTRONG Foundation, which provides financial and emotional support to cancer patients and their families, is celebrating its 15th anniversary by hosting a ride though the Texas Hill Country as a fundraiser.
"Thank you for what you do to support the fight that LIVESTRONG has been fighting now for 15 years. Bless you for that," State Senator and cancer survivor Kirk Watson, (D) Austin, told the crowd of thousands.
This week, that fight got a little tough. LIVESTRONG Founder and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong stepped down from his position as Foundation chairman amid the growing controversy over claims he used performance enhancing drugs.
"Obviously it's been an interesting and, like I said the other night, at times, very difficult few weeks," said Armstrong. "People ask me a lot, 'how you doing?' And I tell them 'well I've been better, but I've also been worse."
Still Armstrong didn't let his personal battles interfere with the mission of the ride.
"If [Watson] would have told me that 15 years later, that little organization, that little idea would have raised half a billion dollars, would have touched two and a half million lives around the world, I would have told you you were crazy. But those are all true," said Armstrong.
The ride's participants raised another $1.7 million for the foundation through registration fees and sponsorships for the ride, but they say this is about much more than money.
John Levitt traveled all the way from California to ride in honor of the newest member of his family.
"My new son-in-law of two months is a cancer survivor. So I'm riding for him and my first grandchild, hopefully on the way soon," said Levitt.
Tony Gonzalez and his wife drove from Florida to Austin.
"My wife's a survivor," said Gonzalez. This is his fourth year participating in the ride, and this time, his wife is also riding.
"It's just a great organization who helps people to fight and deal with everything that comes along with cancer," added Gonzalez.
The support LIVESTRONG provides is something Tanni Lovelace knows about all too well.
"I didn't know where to turn. I got on the internet, I found LIVESTRONG," said Lovelace.
Her husband, a cyclist, was diagnosed with cancer.
"They were a life saver for the eight months that I struggled as a caretaker and as he struggled as a cancer victim," said Lovelace. "My husband rode in the ride in 2009 and in 2010 he passed away from leukemia. And every year since, I've been here."
But this year's ride is different. This year, Lovelace will ride for the first time.
And she and others say they will continue to come back, supporting LIVESTRONG despite the challenges Armstrong is facing.
"This is the largest ride that Austin's had, despite the controversy regarding an individual. LIVESTRONG is not about one person," said Lovelace.
"For what [Armstrong] does here with LIVESTRONG, I don't think it makes a difference," said Mary Paige Corcoran. "But, he won the race. I mean you don't win without training. You don't win without really fighting for what he did. He won those races."
"I've always been a supporter of Lance and I'm still supporting him," agreed Theresa Wood, who is riding in the challenge in honor of her sister who is a cancer survivor.
Support for Armstrong, survivors and patients; giving them the motivation to live strong.