"You are a girl. You are a girl and you want to show the world what you're made of, blood and steel and backbone, guts. So you start running. Running so all those eyes who see just a girl will know what you can do. Your legs take the hills, eat up the road, the sky, the birds, parts of your heart, strong through your chest and then your throat, stride by hungry stride. And you do it really well, too, you run and run and run. Better better best. Breathe and deeper breathe. Until the exhaustion creeps into your bones, steals the fire from your face."
Sports is the quintessentially American dream ticket out of an unhappy life. For Leslie Heywood, champion high school miler, running was just such an escape, her feet flying away from a childhood filled with violence and enforced silence. On the track she mattered, on the track she was certain of who she was. But the world of sports was still a world uncertain of whether it wanted to allow girls in, and Heywood ran headlong into the arms of her coach and then into a collegiate team whose standards for body-fat percentages and diets and training left every athlete struggling with eating disorders and serious injuries from overuse. She kept running, and winning, until she ran too far. No one knew how to help her or stop her. She almost ran herself to death-- until she had to learn to stop.
Today Heywood still loves the challenge of sports, and she has found a way to live with a more balanced relationship to her body and the world. But as she looks at the explosion in the number of girl athletes around her, she asks, "How can we make it safer for them than it was for me?"
With rare candor and tremendous power, Heywood's story reveals what is at stake for a generation of girls who have come of age since Title IX prohibited discrimination against women in federally funded school athletics. "Pretty Good for a Girl" explores why girls need and want to participate in the American dream of competition and individual achievement; it also reveals the obstacles they still face-- such as traditional ideas about what girls should be, which disfigure their competitive spirit and limit their potential. Heywood's gripping memoir brings the untold story of female athletic experience to vibrant life. She gives us a road map of possibilities, a story of mistakes, courage, and determination that points to more positive ways for girls to experience themselves in the world of sport that is fast becoming their own.