Cross Training Athletics

Training the Heart of a Champion From the Inside Out

Louie Zamperini – Work Ethic

Louis Zamperini was always exceptional.  After getting into trouble as a child, Zamperini found an outlet in track and field. He managed to find a tremendous success as a high school and college athlete.   In training for the 1936 Olympics, he had the fastest lap time in the 5000m race, only 56 seconds.

By early 1940, Zamperini had dropped his mile time to 4:07.9.  But there would be no Olympics in 1940.  Zamperini was forced to forego running for a career in the military.   In May 1943, Zamperini and the crew went down in the ocean; eight men died on impact, three survived.

Zamperini and the surviving crewmembers, Francis “Mac” MacNamara and Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, were in dire straits.  They quickly ran out of food and drinkable water.  About thirty-three days into their survival, Mac passed away.  The two surviving crew members faced typhoon sized waves, angry sharks, and were shot at by Japanese pilots.  Their bullet-riddled raft, faded from the blistering sun, barely supported their emaciated bodies.  Finally, on July 15, the two men were picked up by Japanese soldiers. 

Zamperini and Phillips were modestly nursed back to health before they were transferred to a prisoner of war camp.   Always on the brink of starvation, Zamperini was treated especially cruelly because of his running fame.  Zamperini was forced to clean up the latrines, shovel coal, and was beaten relentlessly. He developed beriberi, a deadly disease caused by vitamin deficiency. He was on the brink of death.

On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Less than a month later Japan surrendered.  Zamperini gradually regained his health and celebrated with his peers.  He was officially released on September 5, 1945, more than two years after his plane crash. 

Throughout his life Zamperini physically pushed his body to the limit.  Yet it is truly his passion to live, work ethic and mental vitality that continue to impress people around the world.  His story is the inspiration for the bestselling book, Unbroken and now a major motion picture by the same name.  Zamperini passed away in July of 2014; he was 97 years old.

  • What did Louie do early in his life that tested his work ethic?
  • Why do you think Louie being a runner helped him survive all he endured?
  • What challenges are you getting ready to endure?
  • What might help you and your team prepare for them?