What Price Glory?

Laura Hillenbrand, author of 'Seabiscuit,' discusses her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how the book affected her life.

BY: Interview by Anne A. Simpkinson

 
This interview first appeared on Beliefnet on May 21, 2001. Laura Hillenbrand, now 36, remains disabled by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. "Seabiscuit" is currently the country's number-one bestselling paperback.

How did you first come to write about horses and horse racing?

For me, being a writer was never a choice. I was born one. All through my childhood I wrote short stories and stuffed them in drawers. I wrote on everything. I didn't do my homework so I could write.

In terms of writing about horses, I fell backwards into that. I was intent on getting a Ph.D., becoming a professor, and writing on history but I got sick 14 years ago when I was 19. Getting sick derailed that plan completely.



I spent the first year of my illness pretty much bed-bound and when I began to improve a little bit in 1988, I needed some way to justify my life. I had an idea watching the Kentucky Derby in 1988, something I could write about that hadn't been discussed much. So I wrote an essay and mailed it to Turf & Sport Digest.



The theme that runs through this story is of extraordinary hardship and the will to overcome it.


The magazine no longer exists but it had a huge circulation when the sport was at its height, back in the thirties and forties. It was on its last legs when I submitted the piece--they never did pay me--but they published me and said, "Do you want to keep writing?" I said sure because I was enjoying it. It was making me feel so much better about myself. I wasn't just a person lying in bed, now I was a writer.



You got sick in college with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Can you explain what CFS is and how your illness started?


It started in a very typical way--very suddenly. Prior to that, I was a straight A student, perfectly healthy. I was a very serious athlete. One evening I was driving back from spring break. I think I ate something that was bad earlier that day and I developed food poisoning.



For about two weeks, I was very sick. With CFS, it's typical to have a triggering problem. It could be food poisoning, a bad flu, pneumonia. I woke up two weeks after getting the food poisoning and I simply couldn't sit up in bed.



The biggest problem has been exhaustion. I've spent about 6 of the last 14 years completely bedridden. At times, I have been unable to bathe myself. I have gotten so bad I couldn't really feed myself and a couple of times I needed someone to spoon feed me. I have had trouble rolling over in bed.



Continued on page 2: »

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