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Book Review: 14 Minutes

Posted May 11 2013 5:00am
14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life Alberto Salazar (Author) 280 pages $25.99

This is how the publisher describes the book:

14 Minutes is the memoir of Alberto Salazar, the most accomplished, charismatic, and controversial marathoner in history. The narrative is framed in the 14 minutes in which Salazar was clinically dead after his shocking heart attack in 2007. The story describes his tempestuous relationship with his father, Jose Salazar, who was a close ally of Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution. The narrative follows Alberto’s boyhood in New England, his rise to stardom at the University of Oregon, his dramatic victories in the New York City and Boston Marathons, his long malaise due to injuries, which resulted in a near-suicidal depression; his resurgence due to intense spiritual experiences and discipline; his close alliance with Phil Knight and the Nike corporation; and describes his numerous near-death experiences.

In this book those 14 minutes will be considered from every possible angle. Salazar will share some of the surprising things he’s learned about cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular health. He will also share how modern medical science and technology are fundamentally changing the way we think about death. Salazar will acquaint readers with the latest research studying the near-death experience, which has burgeoned into a field of its own, blending science and the spirit in an especially fascinating combination.
But don’t worry sports fans: mostly this book will tell the story of how a skinny, shy, insecure Cuban-American kid from small-town Massachusetts developed by sheer will—and God’s grace—into the greatest distance runner of his time. Along the way Salazar will introduce important people in his life ranging from the globe’s most famous socialist, Fidel Castro, to one of its most influential capitalists, Nike co-founder and CEO Phil Knight. He will transport readers back to the heady, electric days of the late 1970’s, when running was changing American culture as radically as rock and roll had a decade earlier.

The book will take readers step-by-step through Salazar’s signature races, including his wins at the ‘80, ‘81, and ‘82 New York City Marathons, and his epic, and ultimately self-destructive, victory at the 1982 Boston Marathon. Readers will travel to Cuba’s central highlands and to the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and from the edge of the Indian Ocean in South Africa to a remote village in the war-torn Balkans. But throughout Salazar’s narrative he will keep returning to those 14 black, shattering, miraculous minutes. Surviving virtual death taught him how to live and now it is time for him to share what he’s learned.

I have to admit upfront that I was really looking forward to getting this book for Christmas last year. Ever since it was published I was hoping that I either received it as a gift or the publisher would send me a review copy. As fate would have it I used a iTunes gift card to purchase it. I also have to admit it was because I wanted to learn more about one of the three key runners during the golden age of running in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I also wanted to see just how egotistical and or self-focused this runner was. I have heard a lot about his reputation and attitude and wanted to see his take on it all.

I struggled to get out of the introduction for a few days. I just couldn’t get out of the initial story in the introduction. I finally made it out and got into the real book. What I soon realized was that as expected he was a complex person for totally different reasons than I had expected. I found a very interesting person from a strong and successful family who was very shy, very religious, very talented and focused. My perception of Alberto Salazar did a total 180 while reading the book. I was especially impressed with his strong faith and approach to death. I will not give it away here but faith has planned a major part of his life and for that matter is family’s life for generations.

The book takes you from his roots in Cuba including his father’s involvement with the Revolution up to current day. I liked the fact that he writes about and builds a strong foundation early in the book about all the elements that make him who he is. It is needed to understand these aspects and see how they are woven through his career and life. The book does a great job of detailing his life and major evens within it. But more importantly how certain lessons, values, personality traits or faith paly into those events. For example his attitude and plain talk at interviews was always taken as cockiness. In fact it was more around shyness and or very strong self-confidence.
The book in total is a very open and honest look at his life. From childhood, school, college and his running career to his coaching for Nike in current times. In a sense his story, that most are aware of, is from that high school and college time period and then shortly after. I never realized that during the peak of his career he was trained by and with some of the best coaches and runners of the day. The result was a very good winning and or record setting career that lasted really a very short time. Surprisingly during that period he only competed in 10 marathons but set the standard for them along with a world’s record doing so. The book bridges that period with where he is today with his faith, family, business ventures, coaching and relationship with Nike. The book really does a great job taking you on the highs and lows of his life and in the need what ultimately is important in life and to him.
The big surprise for me with this book is that there is a lot about his faith in it. With an early awareness of death, some illness and or near death experiences for him and overall faith instilled by his family he is a every faithful and religious person. It was interesting to see how his faith as not only shaped him and his career but weakened and strengthened at various times in his life. I think this is one of the key lessons and strongest threads throughout the book.
Overall it is one of the top two biographies that I have read on running over the last handful of years. Ironically my favorite is Dick Beardsley’s book who certainly is a player and key part in Alberto’s story. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in his story, that time period of running during those golden years and or how faith can play into a runner’s life or anyone’s life for that matter.
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