In New York, the heat is absolutely devastating. Forty people die from the hottest summer on record in Manhattan. All of the athletes are dehydrated and losing weight. Still, Louie trains as hard as possible. The day of the race, Bright is expected to finish second to a dominant runner named Don Lash, who is considered unbeatable. When the race starts in the hundred-degree heat, Lash bounds into the lead and Louie hangs back. Slowly but surely, he moves up and up until he is neck-and-neck with Lash. As he crosses the finish, the town of Torrance, listening over the radio, erupts in cheers. Louie wins the race. A few minutes later, the announcer corrects himself that Lash had actually won, but it didn’t matter to Louie, because he was still going to the Berlin Olympics as the youngest distance runner to ever compete for the U.S. team.
At the beginning of Chapter Two, Louie is still a lost soul, caught up in all sorts of trouble. There seems to be no chance of him turning his life around because every time he tries to better himself, it goes wrong. When he finally finds a key that fits an unexpected lock, he is unknowingly set on his path to rehabilitation. The only hiccup in Louie’s betterment in this chapter is his attempt to run away. Though unsuccessful, this was a necessary developmental step for Louie. This journey prepares him for later experiences in his life. Right before Louie leaves, his mother offers him a sandwich and his father offers two dollars. These offerings work as symbols of the unconditional love that his parents have for him, even when he tries to leave them. When Louie is actually out on his own, the sandwich and money serve as reminders of the comfort of home, and are ultimately the driving factors that bring him back home. He realizes how much he loves his family. This initial longing for home, and appreciation of home, becomes a motif in the book, when Louie is lost at sea and then a prisoner of war.
Every hero needs a mentor. In The Odyssey, Athena literally takes the form of a man named Mentor in order to help Odysseus and his family. In this story, Pete is Louie’s mentor, and Louie blossoms under Louie’s coaching. Pete shows that coaching is not only about the physical training. It is also about mental and emotional preparation, along with strategy. Hillenbrand also continues the development of Pete’s character as a responsible and fatherly presence in this chapter. Pete again seems to be capable of doing no wrong, as everything he does is compassionate and in the best interest of his loved ones. Pete is the only one who can coral and guide Louie. Pete also believes in Louie. He is the mentor figure to him, a guiding spirit, a guardian angel, a third parent. His self-sacrifice, in putting Louie first, enables Louie’s running success and empowers Louie’s self-confidence.
Louie’s life can help readers reflect on their own lives. Louie and Pete do not begin with an end goal for what Louie would do with his running. Instead, they take steps forward and then make smart decisions where they can. Sometimes in life obstacles and disappointment can cause people to steer in a direction they had not intended to go. This happens to Louie when he steers toward the 5000-meter run. He had not previously considered, or known, his ability to run this longer distance. He learns about his abilities as he goes along. Louie’s abilities to take on new challenges and to adapt to new situations are some of his character strengths, traits that serve him well later in the story. Interestingly, these abilities also make his athletic story so dramatic and engaging for his fans from Torrance and beyond.
The heat serves as an important equalizer at the Olympic trials. Though Louie doesn’t have nearly as much experience as the rest of the field, he is willing to run and train harder than anyone else. The heat makes it incredibly difficult to train and race, but Louie is fully committed to finishing in the top three. His ability to push his body to its limits and absolute desire to win allow him to qualify, despite his inexperience. This ability to take a beating and to persevere against all odds will serve Louie well later in life, when he finds himself in war. Louie sees how much he can endure. He builds and exhibits not only physical strength, but also mental strength.