Andres ’05 and Aili McConnon ’ 02 (Photo: Helen Tansey)
The 99th Tour de France is under way, and Aili ’02 and Andres McConnon ’05 have a special interest in the race and in one two-time winner in particular. Ten years ago, Andres read about Gino Bartali, who had won in 1938 at age 24 and again 10 years later. The Italian sports legend piqued Andres’ interest and led the brother and sister to wonder what happened to Bartali in that intervening decade.
Aili found a short Italian news story online that described how Bartali had helped Jews in Italy during World War II. The McConnons learned that Bartali had been not only a sports underdog, but also a secret war hero who had sheltered a Jewish family and carried in the frame of his bicycle false identity documents for Jews in Italy.
The story of this colorful athlete and hero captivated the McConnons and led to three years of research and the recently published book – Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation (Crown Publishers). Last weekend it debuted at number 5 on The Globe and Mail’s list of Canadian nonfiction bestsellers (the McConnons grew up in Toronto).
As for collaborating with a sibling, Aili called the experience “terrific.” “Sometimes in work contexts you might worry about offending people. But we knew that we wanted to make the relationship work because there would be many family get-togethers in the future.”