When high school athlete Bonnie Richardson won the Texas Class 1A track team championship all by herself, it was a big deal. Then she did it again the next year. In the September 28 issue of Sports Illustrated, Gary Smith tells us why this reluctant superstar wishes people would just let her be.

In “The Power of One,” Smith makes music with simple language and vivid metaphors, but his real skill here is to show us Richardson’s inner life. What others might sketch as simplicity or innocence, Smith casts as Richardson’s fierce fidelity to herself. His Richardson is a little sullen, a girl who was called the Beast and responded by defiantly taking the name for her own and wearing capes emblazoned with “da beast.”

She writes the kind of poetry many people do as adolescents: I hear legions of fate calling my true name. She believes she has the capacity to astound the world, and she has not yet shut herself off from the possibility that she might be right.

Yet Smith will not let us get away with a sentimental reading of a gifted athlete’s shining moment. “I was considered a freak. I still am,” Richardson says, and by letting the admission come near the end of his story, Smith gets at something bitter but true about the longing for greatness and the loneliness of accomplishment.

[Read our interview with Smith, in which he talks about Bonnie Richardson’s story and how he works to keep the reader close at hand.]

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