Lessons From an Olympian
This past Sunday I preached at Haddock Baptist Church and one of the stories shared in the sermon was about Louis Zamperini. To my surprise, as I was watching television last night I saw an advertisement for a new movie that will be directed by Angelina Jolie about the story of his life. One lady at Haddock asked if I would send her his story so that she could share it with people at the jail where she speaks. That gave me the idea to also share it with you. I believe his story of strength and perseverance has the ability to inspire us all.
Louis Zamperini was a track prodigy. He set a United States track record that was unbroken for 19 years, and an NCAA mile record that lasted for 20. By 1940, he was an Olympic 1500 meter favorite and was predicted to be the first person to break the four-minute mile. But World War II cancelled the Olympics, and Zamperini became an airman. When his plane crashed in the Pacific he survived only to become a prisoner of the Japanese. They beat him, starved him, conducted medical experiments and enslaved him. Once they heard he had been an Olympian, they were going to force him to race hoping to humiliate him. If he refused they threatened to beat the other prisoners.
The guards summoned a Japanese runner to face him and Zamperini had no hope or intention of winning. Not only was his broken body in no condition for running but he knew that if he won he would probably be put to death. As they started the race he says that other captives began to gather around and watch. For that small amount of time he saw the hollowness leave their eyes and their spirits become uplifted. Zamperini saw it in their faces… they needed him to win. On the final lap, as they cheered, Zamperini pushed past his rival and won the race. He said the last thing he heard before he was clubbed unconscious was the chorus of voices shouting in triumph.
Louis Zamperini, now at the age of 97, would not have done that differently. He could have easily felt sorry for himself and thought his journey had come to an end. But he allowed God to use him to bring light into a very dark place. How can we be a light in our world?