Books A legally blind runner and a football writer both look for a clear vision

November 05, 2001

No Finish Line (My Life As I See It)
By Marla Runyan with Sally Jenkins
G.P. Putnam's Sons, $25.95

At age nine, after a succession of frustrating misdiagnoses,
Marla 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.

--Ron Fimrite

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.

--Charles Hirshberg

COLOR PHOTO: PENGUIN COLOR PHOTO: HARPER COLLINS

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