Betting on Seabiscuit

Laura Hillenbrand beat the odds to write the hit horse-racing saga while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome, a mysterious disorder starting to reveal its secrets

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“We always tell patients truthfully that we don’t know what caused their [chronic fatigue syndrome]—maybe they were stressed, maybe it was a virus. We say it’s like being in a hit-and-run accident: it’s happened, and that’s tough. Now, what can we do about it? We know that psychological factors such as depression can affect the outcome and so can physical factors like inactivity. And those we can change.”


Hillenbrand has begun seeing a therapist who takes a cognitive behavioral approach. “We’re talking about how I’m perceiving the illness and what my expectations are,” she says. “I don’t think I went into the illness with these problems, but over the years of being traumatized by chronic fatigue syndrome, you develop problems that make it harder for you to recover from it. I’m feeling a bit better, and I think ultimately the treatment will help me.”


What she’d really like to do—work on another book—isn’t possible just now. “I absolutely destroyed myself in finishing Seabiscuit, and my ability to read and write is severely limited” because of chronic vertigo, she says. “I have ideas that I’m itching to turn into books, but I can’t touch them.”


Hillenbrand knew from the outset that writing Seabiscuit would jeopardize her health, but she has no regrets: “Whether it ruins me for good, writing this book was absolutely worth it. Every morning I woke up happy because I knew I was going to spend the day with these men and with this horse.”


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