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Jack and Madelynn were determined to give Adele, Lee and Bonnie the same gift they'd grown up with—the great wide open—without conceding an inch of education or opportunity to suburban or city kids. Jack's duties: scoreboard and school board; running the clock on Tuesday nights and the school district on Wednesdays. Madelynn would man the trenches, grinding herself to dust with a year and a half of daily three-hour commutes to Angelo State for her teaching certification so she could roam her daughters' hallways and classrooms. Lucky Bonnie! Mom for ninth-grade integrated physics and chemistry, Mom for 10th-grade biology, Mom for 11th-grade chemistry, Mom for 12th-grade physics, Mom at the concession stands at every basketball game, Mom at every car wash and fish fry as class sponsor, Mom at the front door at curfew.
Yep, lucky Bonnie, because OmniMom let her be who she was: the four-year-old girl shooting a Remington at prickly pear cactus with Dad. The five-year-old climbing on a bucket to mount Snip and trot off with Dad to run the ranch. The seven-year-old scaling bluffs and building forts and diving into Onion Creek till the horn from Dad's pickup called her to dinner. The eight-year-old rising at 4 a.m. to spend all day separating the cattle for weighing and shipping, and swallowing so much dust that she'd spit brown till tomorrow. The 10-year-old sobbing when the family moved from the 12,000-acre ranch where Dad worked to an 85-acre homestead that the Richardsons could call their own. The 12-year-old praying out loud with Lee when monster hailstones drummed their sports banquet and tornado sirens screamed—"Please, Lord, don't let them find my dead body in a dress!" The 17-year-old in bulky camouflage shorts, pockets bulging with snacks and energy bars, who'd gone to school with the same six boys for so many years that she'd decided to defer romance till college and focus meanwhile on clamping them in headlocks in the hallways and flattening their right arms on the school's picnic table during lunchtime arm wrestling.
All those years Madelynn turned a deaf ear to the clucks over her tomboy. To the chain saw that buzzed off the lower branches of their church's magnolia tree so Bonnie and Lee couldn't hang upside down from them in gashed panty hose anymore. To the Presbyterian minister's twinkle-eyed remark that "Adele got all the ladylike—and she left with it." Madelynn herself had grown up preferring slingshots to dresses and working cattle on her grandpa's ranch, and she still regretted small-town modesties that left her with a flute in her fist instead of a relay baton.
Some life energies pool up for a generation before they burst. That's Bonnie in lane 6, fixating on her sprint archrival, defending 100-meter state champ Kendra Coleman of Santa Anna High. Bonnie can't afford one of her typical starts. "Like a newborn colt getting to its feet for the first time," says Lee.
Bang! Hey, not bad, more like the colt's third or fourth time up. There they gallop, stride for stride, Kendra all silk and swish, Bonnie all slash and burn. Her spike—a man's size 12—seems to hit the finish line first, but Kendra gets her by a leaning eyelash, 12.18 to 12.19: Bonnie's fastest 100 ever! Eight more points. Thirty-two total. Still atop the team standings.
"Smile!" demands Dad as he videotapes the medals ceremony. Kendra does. Bonnie doesn't. Coach Dennis peels away to call home on his cellphone and send the fingers of his pregnant wife, Marci, flying across their computer keyboard. He needs her to check the website that tallies the totals after each event, because he's too modest to poke around here asking the question he's dying to: If Bonnie takes the 200, is any school left in the relays close enough to stop her from doing the unthinkable?
I worry that I am inadequate
THE LAST EVENT. Her best event. Less about reflex and form than the 100, more about grit and raw power. More about the strength and ferocity that the small minds begrudge her and that even one of her best friends at school, Jason Valiant, began caricaturing in the ninth grade, sketching cartoons of a Michelin-muscled Bonnie engaged in Herculean feats while fans watched agog.
THE BEAST, he scribbled beneath the cartoons, and the nickname caught on with the boys at school. No matter how many times she'd conquered them on the playground since grade school, they'd never seemed threatened, because she'd never rubbed their faces in it. They became her pals, the strongest ones happy to hoist her and turn her upside down when she headlocked them in school or at the Sonic Drive-In, 10 miles away in Brady, a consequence far preferable to the drama and gossip of the girls. Bonnie boycotted their locker-room silliness before her basketball games, lying in her stall—one of six small shower and changing cubicles claimed by upperclassmen—with her big feet protruding, her earphones clamped and metal rock howling, readying herself for the challenge while teammates danced, chatted and squealed. If the girls got louder than Avenged Sevenfold at full blast, she'd let 'em have it. Otherwise she remained an island, and they'd roll a ball at those big feet to rouse her when it was time to hit the court.
It was one thing to go through that locker-room door and be called a monster by an opponent or a fan, another for a shy girl to have her best buddies begin calling her the Beast. Bonnie absorbed that, mulling her options ... and then pulled out her markers. She wrote da beast in large letters on homemade capes to wear on her Homecoming float and on Class Color Day, and started signing her yearbook inscriptions that way. She took her other dubious nickname, Canoe Shoe—the one Lee laid on her in eighth grade—gave it a funky spelling and had it etched on the breast of her letter jacket: KANU SHU. In a place where folks tucked their differences away, she wore hers. She let the Beast off the leash, and everyone else could run for cover.