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


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That's the story of the individuals I wrote about: They were successful in overcoming what they had to deal with. Stepping out of my body and into their lives--they were vigorous men, who lived wild eventful lives that swung in gigantic parabolas--was an escape for me. I lived for four years in the 1930s with these individuals and the only time that I wasn't thinking about dealing with physical suffering is when I was working on this book. I've never been more alive as when I worked on this book.

At the end of chapter five you wrote: "The racehorse, by virtue of his awesome physical gift, freed the jockey from himself." And: "For the jockey, the saddle was a place of unparalleled exhilaration and of transcendence." I was wondering whether the relationship of the jockey to the horse might have been similar to you and the process of writing.

That's exactly it because, for the jockey, there are tremendous risks involved in getting on a racehorse. They punish their bodies to get themselves down to weight and then they have to go out and take the kind of risks that almost nobody has the courage to take. It's a ridiculously dangerous job.

But they get this prize at the end of it. They get to enjoy something that none of us enjoy who stay on the ground which is the exhilaration of being on the most remarkable creature God ever created, of being able to take part in that speed and power. That's very similar to the risk I was taking and the joy I got from writing it.

How did you choose to tell the Seabiscuit story?

I've known about the horse since I was a little kid. I read a book called "Come On, Seabiscuit," which somebody bought me for twenty cents at some book fair or something. I read the covers right off of it. I mean, the thing is falling apart. I still have it, all bound up in rubber bands.

So I knew the horse's story. Then in 1996, I was going through some old racing documents and came across some facts about the owner, the trainer, and the jockey that I had never known. I thought, "That looks really interesting." I kept looking and the story just kept getting better and better and I knew I had a book. You wait your whole career for a story like this.

It was many stories. Each of the main characters had their own story. The horse had a story and --

And other people. I got to interview more than 100 very elderly people who had actually lived this story. They gave it so much color.

I guess none of the principals were still alive.

They weren't, no. The last one, Marcella Howard [wife of Seabiscuit's owner], died in 1987. Red [Pollard] died in 1981. George [Woolf] [a jockey who rode Seabiscuit when Pollard was recuperating from an accident] had been dead a very long time. But a lot of people who were very closely associated with them were around. Alfred Vanderbilt, who arranged [Seabiscuit's] match race with War Admiral, was a huge help. George Woolf's best friend; Red's sister and children; a lot of Seabiscuit's exercise riders, grooms, stable agents. I was very fortunate. I'm right at the end of living memory with this one.

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