This book was mentioned to me, somewhat in passing, by my old physical therapist. My wife has a knee injury and is now seeing him, and I wanted to go to listen in on the diagnosis and prescribed exercises. While I am a layman compared to a PT or a Doctor, I became a bit of a knee expert in my own when I went through so many problems in the past. His description sounded intriguing, so I immediately picked it up, which in today’s terms means I downloaded it to my kindle app on my iPad. 🙂 I was instantly hooked.
The story is of Louie Zamperini, who was a kid struggling to stay out of trouble, when he discovered running. Within a short time, he had broken the national high school record in the mile at 4:21 in a 1934 preliminary meet. He did not qualify for the Olympics in the mile so decided to try the 5k, and on his 3rd race at that distance, finished in a dead heat with world-record holder Don Lash. While he only placed 8th in the 5k at the Olympics, his last lap was so fast (56 seconds!!) that Hitler asked to meet him personally. In 1938, he won the NCAA Championship in a time of 4:08.3 — while his opponents tried to slow him. He finished with a cracked rib, punctured shins, and an impaled toe! Many thought he would be the 1st to break the 4:00 barrier in the mile, but along came World War II.
In World War II, Louie became a bomber in a B-24. On one of his flight missions, the plane goes down and Louie and two others drifted on the pacific for 47 days, catching birds and fish as best they could, and rain water in small tins. (One of the three died before they were rescued.) Unfortunately, the rescuers were Japanese, so Louie then spends a lot of time in various Japanese POW camps, under abhorrent conditions.
I guess if I tell much more of the story, you may not read the book. It is so worth reading… Fantastic book if you like running, US history, World War II, or biographies that read like novels.
As always, a few quotes:
Given the dismal record of raft-bound men, Mac’s despair was reasonable. What is remarkable is that the two men who shared Mac’s plight didn’t share his hopelessness. Though Phil was constantly wondering how long this would go on, it had not yet occurred to him that he might die. The same was true for Louie. Though they both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out
- Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.
- Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.
- The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer.
- All he had left was his alcohol and his resentment, the emotion that, Jean Améry would write, “nails every one of us onto the cross of his ruined past.”
- His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times