No Finish Line (My Life As I See It)
By Maria Runyan with Sally Jenkins
G.P. Putnam's Sons, $25.95
At age nine, after a succession of frustrating misdiagnoses, Maria Runyan was found to have Stargardt's disease, a type of macular degeneration that would leave her legally blind. She can make out shapes and colors, but, she writes, "when I look in the mirror, I can't see my own eyes."
The disability has not prevented her from becoming a world-class runner, the American women's record holder in the indoor 5,000 meters and the top U.S. finisher (eighth) in the 1,500 meters at the 2000 Olympic Games. How she arrived at this eminence is the nominal subject of this expertly written book. Lord knows, it wasn't easy for her, and in her youth, Runyan portrays herself as a grimly determined, virtually humorless, closed-fist sort of achiever. However, a move to Eugene, Ore., where running is what gambling is to Las Vegas, a romance and maturity transformed her into a kinder and gentler person.
In other words, she learned to cope. It's this coming to grips with the reality of her circumstances that is the real subject of this book and separates her story from the sanctimonious norm for this kind of volume. For this we may thank co-author Jenkins, whose collaboration with cancer survivor Lance Armstrong on the best-seller It's Not About the Bike has given her valuable perspective in the illness genre.
My Life is not as much about the track as it is about the growth of the heroic woman running on it and her, yes, vision.
The Sweet Season
by Austin Murphy
Harper Collins, $25.00
How's this for a gridiron coaching philosophy: Cut down on practice, do away with calisthenics and don't hit too hard in scrimmages. That's John Gagliardi's way. As a result Gagliardi, the coach of Division III St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., has won 383 games, making him the second-winningest coach in college football history. This fascinates SI senior writer Murphy, who has spent many a day on practice fields watching coaches screaming abuse at players while putting them through hours of brutal drills. Gagliardi represents not only a different coaching style but also a different set of values. How is it possible to be sensitive and compassionate to the people around you while kicking ass on the field every Saturday?
Murphy wants to know because his life is in crisis. He has a terrific job, a beautiful wife and two wonderful kids. Still, the job often takes him far from his family, and he decides to take a sabbatical, move his family to St. John's and study Gagliardi's style.
The result is essentially two books. The first is a frequently hilarious look at a football team that revels in its uniqueness. The second is like a sitcom in which the writer struggles to be a better husband and dad. It's all fun to read, but the relationship between the two subjects isn't always clear. Murphy, as he reminds us, is extremely busy, and one gets the sense that he could have brought these two books together beautifully into one—if only he'd had the time.