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September 28, 2009
At age 17 Bonnie Richardson won the Texas state track team championship all by herself. Then she did it again
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September 28, 2009

The Power Of One

At age 17 Bonnie Richardson won the Texas state track team championship all by herself. Then she did it again

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SHE RISES from a second gutted night's sleep. Her headache's waiting. Her stomach hurts. A banana's all she can push down. It's the final day of her high school life, and she longs to feel that exhilaration that exploded from her classmates at last week's graduation but that she couldn't let herself feel. All she feels instead is, Please, just let these two footraces be over and let me go home.

It's public knowledge: The Rochelle High Hornets, a.k.a. Bonnie Richardson, lead all schools with 28 points, four more than at this juncture a year ago. She crouches in lane 3 for the 100, taut, distant, ornery. How did it happen? The thing inside her that longed for liberation from common society had achieved it so completely that common society, expecting it of her now, has her locked up once more. Or maybe this is her own prison, deep inside theirs, the one she bolts herself into when she doesn't measure up to her own standards.

Runners, to your mark.... She plants her hands, lifts her tail. If only she were in this stance on a football field. If only she could've done the one thing she really wanted to do. All her basketball glory, all these medals, even the state team track championship, she'd trade right now for the chance to play high school football, to come out of this stance on a Friday night ... and explode. To turn the Beast around, the one gnashing at her now, and sic it on someone else, discharge it, let it wallop somebody, level him. Defense, she'd say, her eyes glinting. She could let her anger out there.

The nine boys on Rochelle's six-man team were dying to have her. They'd fought over whose side she'd be on when teachers weren't watching and they played tackle. They'd done gassers and sprints and sit-ups with her for four years, watched her pound out the same 60 push-ups that they did to remember the 60 that Zephyr High scored against them. They knew she'd be a star on their sorry team ... if only Mr. and Mrs. Richardson would let her.

Get set.... But they wouldn't. Not when she poured her heart into that long, wrenching letter to them in her sophomore year, not when she pleaded with them to make their permission her only Christmas gift, not when she threatened to sit out basketball season, not even when she—who never cried, who hated scenes—burst from the dinner table in tears and ran to her room. It was the one line they wouldn't let her cross, not because they didn't think she could do it or because small-town eyebrows would arch, but because they knew she'd become the lightning rod for every volt of male electricity crackling on that field: the target. Especially of the males she pancaked.

Team manager, she'd had to settle for, donning the Hornets jersey to run water and towels to the boys. Even that was temporarily forbidden in her sophomore year by a since-departed principal, who decreed that Bonnie—in her bulky shorts and jersey—might distract the boys, a decree he might've regretted after Mama Richardson finally got out of his face.

Bang! Bonnie breaks late from the blocks. That's nothing new, but the quicksand she's still running in 50 meters later ... that is. Three sprinters are pulling away, a fourth is closing on her; she's panicking! She clocks in at 12.51, clinging to fourth place—four team points—by a hundredth of a second.

Coach Dennis tiptoes up as she gathers her sweats. "Are you O.K.?" he asks.

"No," she growls.

"Do you want to warm up for the 200?"

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