Monday, October 11, 2010
On Friday I heard the most interesting man on the planet speak. And no, it wasn’t that Dos Equis guy. Louis Zamperini came to the OTC to speak 70 athletes about perseverance, and to share his life’s story. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re not the only one, but he is truly an incredible person and deserving of much more recognition than he gets.
At 93 years old, Louis flew to Colorado Springs to speak at the OTC's annual Reach the Peak event. He probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, but he more than makes up for his small stature with a larger than life... life. He started running in high school, and at just 19 made the Olympic team. He competed in Berlin in Hitler's Olympics in 1936, and despite not winning a medal, he was congratulated by Hitler himself for his finishing kick in the 5000m. He also stole a Nazi flag, and talked his way out of trouble with the gestapo.
After the war is when his life really got interesting. His plane crashed during a WWII rescue mission in the south Pacific. He spent 47 days on a raft with the other two survivors (one died after 33 days on the raft). They fought off Great White sharks (he told us nonchalantly that if you're ever face to face with a Great White, just put your hand on its nose and it'll calm down and leave you alone) and evaded death by Japanese planes shooting at them. He decided to jump in the water and take his chances with a few sharks than face certain death from a bullet. After drifting over 2000 miles, he washed up on shore of the Marshall Islands and was soon taken prisoner by the Japanese and transferred to "Execution Island." He was a guinea pig for their medical experiments, was threatened with death every day (the nine previous captives on the island had all been beheaded) and kept in a tiny cell. He was transferred to a POW camp in Japan where he was help for two years. Merciless beatings and forced labor were the day-to-day in Louis's life for two years.
He was freed after the war ended and jumped straight back into real life. He married a smoking hot girl soon after returning home but fell into a bottle and suffered from night terrors until he found religion. Now, this is where I am really amazed by Louis's character. He was beaten, tortured, experimented on, and faced with atrocities I don't want to imagine everyday for two years, and was able to forgive his captors for it. He went to Japan on a religious trip and met with some of his guards (they were in prison) and he was able to forgive every single one, including the worst one.
I’m not a vengeful person, but if I went through what he did I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as quick to forgive. I don’t think I’d want to kill them, but I at least wouldn’t want to go visit them, or probably forgive them for what they’d done. And I understand that orders are orders, but in that case I feel it’d be okay to stay angry for a while.
He then went on to talk about how the lessons he’s learned from the Olympics and his war experience has impacted his life. Everything he said about living life was so simple and made so much sense. For instance, just don’t think about negative things. You can only focus on one thing, so why not make it a good thing? By eliminating stress, he’s been able to live a healthy, happy life and at 93, he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all. He talked about having hope and faith, the difference between them and how without them, he wouldn’t have made it off the raft. It was really amazing to hear his story, and at the same time frustrating that I’d never heard of him before! How can a person who’s persevered through so much be an unknown? He wrote an autobiography that I just started reading, and there is another book about him coming out next month (Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit is writing it).
I definitely recommend watching his video (I’ll post the links for it it) and looking into his life. You know you’ve lived an amazing life when being an Olympian is an afterthought.