So it seems that Gary "No, Seriously, I'm Fine, It's Just A Hole In My Lung" Stevens was frustrated because word wasn't getting out on what happened to him during a recent spill, a fall that earned him a fractured vertebra and a collapsed lung. You know who he called from his hospital bed? Not his spokesman. Not a journalist. Not Entertainment Tonight.
A nonfiction writer.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, got the scoop. She got the good stuff-- not which horse fell into who and how many lengths were lost, but the "WHAT WAS WERE HIS FEELINGS?!!?" crap that we creative nonfictionistas eat up with a slotted spoon.
She got the scoop because she is Gary Stevens' friend, and because she is an honest historical writer. Stevens told her he was afraid he was having a heart attack as he was rushed to the hospital, that the hoof of one of the oncoming horses had grazed his ear, barely missing him, and that he'd experienced the worst pain of his life as his lung was reinflated.
He told her he couldn't breathe after the fall. That he was scared.
She told the story.
This is why I left journalism-- to write. I never gave one damn about scoops, about being the first with the story. I give many damns, however, about being the one with the whole story, that I might be able to help a friend hurting in the hospital who knows that the public-- and, therefore, history-- isn't getting the truth. Gary Stevens had something like four agents, a spokesman, a track representative, and eight million different kinds of sportswriters milling around various parts of the country, and not a single one of them managed to get the story straight. I can't tell you how many blatant untruths concerning the Seabiscuit story I've found in the media since the movie was released-- one newspaper piece, for instance, ripped the historical Red Pollard for frequenting brothels when Seabiscuit states he most likely did not.
This shouldn't have surprised me; after we lost Columbia, one of my co-workers at KSC found fifty-three errors in one newspaper article.
This type of famous person-writer thing needs to happen to me. I'd be sitting there staring angrily at a pile of incomprehensible engineering crap and the phone would ring, and there would be Cristiano Ronaldo, having actually injured himself upon the pitch: "My dear girl, precious artist," he would say-- voice weak with the effort, but he has to talk to me, he just has to-- "tell my story."
Then I, with God-touched humility, would solemnly agree: "My words shall bear your will, my brave, brave knight." And then we'd both cry.
August 22, 2003