Hoping sports will channel Louie’s energies into a more socially acceptable activity, Pete convinces him to join the track team. Louie only agrees so that he can impress the girls who watch the boys practice. After coming in last during his first track meet, an embarrassed Louie trains until he is good enough to attend the All City Finals where he comes in fifth. But running feels like a chore and Louie begins to resent the hard work.
Louie’s embarrassment reveals that a fear of losing his pride and self-respect motivates him to run. But fear is not sufficient for actually making him enjoy running – Louie’s resentment foreshadows his slip back into his delinquent ways. Fear alone won’t keep him on the path to redemption.
After an argument with his parents, Louie and a friend board a train and ride north. Soon, a railroad detective forces them to jump from the moving train at gunpoint. After several days of walking and stealing food, a desperate and hungry Louie decides to return home, realizing he must reform his ways or else live in absolute poverty. His parents welcome him home and he begins training with Pete in earnest.
With only fear motivating his desire to reform, Louie returns to his delinquent ways. Though fear of poverty drives him back to his family, he’ll need something more substantial to keep his sights on redemption.
Louie finds a hero and role model in the runner Glenn Cunningham. As a child, Cunningham lost the ability to walk after being burned in a house fire. Not giving up, Cunningham trained himself to walk and even run. By 1932, sports casters were heralding him as America’s greatest mile runner. Admiring the man’s resilience, Louie trains everyday and soon becomes one of the fastest runners in Southern California.
Finally, instead of fear, Louie finds something positive to motivate him: overcoming limitations and the promise of resilience. No longer simply running away from fear of sterilization or poverty, Louie is now running towards a goal – to imitate his idol, overcome any obstacle or limitation, and become the best runner he can be.