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
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.