Lisa Fenn, Carry On (2016)
At the rare times when I watch sporting events (mostly during the Olympics), I’m less drawn in by the goals and records scored than by the human interest stories that sportscasters concoct to tug at our heartstrings and make us feel the emotions we have in common with these amazing athletes. Even when they’re engaged in the most mystifying and uncongenial of activities to me — dashing about, throwing things and clouting one another — their passion, dedication, and overcoming of obstacles can be inspiring, as can the many different paths they take toward achieving their dreams.
So it is with Lisa Fenn’s memoir, Carry On, which takes the story of two teenage boys who meet on the wrestling mat (perhaps the sport, along with boxing, that I would normally find the most repugnant) and makes of it a most moving portrait of human resilience and the bonds of love. The two boys, Dartanyon and Leroy, are black, poor, and disabled, one legally blind, the other a double amputee; one would not expect them to try out for the school wrestling team, let alone win a single match. But they forge a friendship that boosts them beyond the limits life has made for them, and carry one another in ways neither could have dreamed of alone.
Fenn herself, who starts out recording the piece for ESPN, becomes more personally involved than is generally the wont of reporters. She realizes she cannot profit off of these boys without helping them in return, and also simply falls in love with them. She learns that part of what is holding them back is the untold stories locked within them by trauma and misunderstanding, and that as a storyteller it is her privilege and obligation to allow those stories to unfold, to give them wings. She shares the slow process of gaining the boys’ trust and understanding their real needs, which involved some triumphs but also many times of feeling as though they had been slammed to the mat by life, when simply “carrying on” was the most they could manage. And she also describes some of her own journey toward love and reconciliation, including her and her husband’s hard-won decision to adopt an infant while also opening their hearts to Dartanyon and Leroy.
Fenn finds in this journey a sign of God’s calling her to participate in the divine mission of love, but mainly she lets her faith stay quietly in the background of the story she has to tell, and readers of any religious persuasion can relate to the basic human emotions and experiences related here. Viewers of the ESPN piece certainly responded in droves, finding hope and inspiration and offering support of many kinds in return. But unlike many flash-in-the-pan stories of ephemeral fame and lost potential, this one resulted in real and lasting transformation of three individuals, and many more beyond that whose lives they touched. Read it, and your life will be touched and changed by them too.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review Carry On. For more information and tour stops, visit the TLC site.