Sports serve many different purposes. They can be a diversion from everyday stress, a way to bond with fellow fans, and sometimes even a chance for a nation to come together in the darkest times. Today I’m highlighting three books about athletes who faced down one of history’s darkest periods—the years during and leading up to World War Two—and gave the world true heroes to believe in.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. His reminds the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Gino Bartali—a scrawny cyclist from impoverished Tuscany—shocked the world when he won the Tour de France at age 24. But that was only the beginning of his story. As Mussolini’s Fascists tried to hijack his win for propaganda purposes, Bartali risked his own life by sheltering a family of Jews, and by smuggling counterfeit identity documents hidden in his bicycle past Fascist and Nazi checkpoints because the soldiers recognize him as a national hero in training.
Then, after the war, Bartali once again stunned the world by winning the Tour de France—ten years after his first win. Bartali’s life story is one of perseverance, courage, and unmatched athletic prowess.
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