Leslie Heywood wants to be seen for who she is--by her family, by her coach, and by the boys in her new high school. Of the latter she writes, "They don't see me. They see some blank girl instead, some chick
." A talented runner, Heywood quickly finds in the high-school cross-country team a sense of purpose, and eventually some authentic friendships among the group of guys, "long, gangly misfits" who run with her. But that's not enough--this girl is itching for greatness. Faced with family troubles and the pre-Title IX sexism of high school athletics, her drive to conquer her sport grows ferocious. She tears up the mountains in her Arizona town (in 110-degree heat, no less), she piles weights on in the gym "like they were dimes," and, finally, afraid of not being quite fast enough or fat-free enough, she stops eating.
The painful consequences of Heywood's relentless drive toward physical perfection are at the center of this heartfelt memoir. But the moments of exhilaration and strength that running brings to Heywood suggest what women--given the right support--have to gain from participation in athletics. Regardless of her missteps, the author, now a professor and bodybuilder, remembers the boon sport brought to her shaky teenage sense of self. "Running was the way I first carved myself into the world," she writes, "how I learned to claim a space, throw my shoulders back, and fly." --Maria Dolan
Just in time for the upsurge in "girl power" books comes this insightful yet disturbing sports memoir of a former Arizona high-school track and cross-country star who soars to first place in races but spirals downward in her battle to win acceptance among her male peers, and to avoid eating disorders and exercise compulsion, to overcome an unhappy home life (an alcoholic father) and a destructive, sexual relationship with an unethical coach. In coach Jeanie Zumwalt, she finds a mentor who is "someone I can reason with, discuss a game plan, as though I have a level head." Limited details about Heywood's home life leave the impression that there is a piece of this puzzle missing. Nevertheless, this is a well-written account of the pressures teenage athletes face that can lead to self-abuse and destruction. Having traded her spikes for bodybuilding, Heywood concludes with the hope that her book will give other girls the "support I didn't have" so that they can avoid "the same mistakes." Recommended for all involved in sports. Brenda Barrera