Wednesday, January 7, 2015

First, Running Saved Him

Matt and I spent last Friday enjoying a legitimate date night. We had dinner at one of our favorite Thai/sushi restaurants, spent some time browsing Barnes & Noble, and then saw Unbroken.
I was looking for a running calendar and found the most perfect one EVER.
I have the book on Kindle and have started reading it (FYI - it's AMAZING), but this post is about the events of Louis Zamperini's life as depicted in the film. (I'm not going to review the film itself in depth, so I'll just say this: while I felt some of the scenes and transitions were a little awkward, the movie was successful in creating poignant, intense moments. It kept me engaged and was definitely enjoyable and inspiring.)
Obviously Zamperini's story isn't all about running, but the role that running plays is integral to the story's outcome. a nutshell.
First, running saved him. Zamperini was the child of Italian immigrants who struggled to find his place in America. He was stealing, drinking, and getting into fights at a young age. His older brother introduced him to running. Pete saw it as a way to save Louis from himself, to make him more than he was, to harness some of that destructive power and energy to turn it into something good.
So many of us have turned to running for a similar reason. It was a way to test ourselves and find our limits; it's a way to learn what we're really made of. Zamperini learned he was made of better stuff; running pulled him off a destructive path and onto a better one.

Running made him strong. Zamperini learned to dig deep the way runners must. You can't run a 4:xx mile without growing through pain. Running gives us a mental and emotional strength that transcends the sport itself, and when Zamperini was stranded in the ocean for 47 days, we see that strength. When he was captured by the Japanese and endures torture and starvation in POW camps, that strength kept him alive. 

(In the ocean scenes, we also see another aspect of running: the spirit of camaraderie and teamwork. Part of that may be his military training; I can't help but think that his treatment of Mac on the raft exemplifies the best part of a runner's spirit.)

So, running saved him from a life of crime. It made him strong and gave him the knowledge that pain is temporary and can be conquered. And that knowledge saved him again when he faced the brutalities of POW camps.

Throughout the movie, you see glimpses of Zamperini's running career and you see, through the memories, that running sustained him. It taught him his value, his true strength, moral fiber, and resilience. It prepared him for a future he could never had imagined. The other soldiers in the POW camps needed something to keep them going - most of them seem to be holding onto memories of family or hope that the Allies will win the war - but it's clear that running lit a fire in Zamperini that kept him moving forward even when it seemed all hope was lost.
This movie truly captures the indomitable spirit that makes runners great. It shows what runners are made of, even though the majority of the movie isn't about running, and even though most of us will never have to endure even a fraction of what Zamperini lived through. It shows us, through his amazing ability to overcome without ever losing his integrity or his identity, what a runner's heart truly is.

If Pete had never encouraged Louis to run, would he have survived? Would he have developed the mental skills and bravery that kept him going? Beginning to run turned Zamperini's life around, and I have to credit it (at least partially) for the courageous man he turned out to be.
In 1998, Zamperini returned to Japan and carried the Olympic torch past one of the prisons where he had been held captive.
Watching greatness in running translate into strength and greatness in near-death, real-life experiences was more moving and inspiring than I had expected, and I left the theater filled with awe and more than a little teary-eyed.

Have you seen Unbroken or read the novel?
Which runners do you look to for real-life inspiration?



Kristina @ Blog About Running said...

I haven't seen the movie or read the book yet. I have no clue why but I have had no desire to do either, but after reading your post my interest in piqued. I may need to go see it this weekend!

Lizzy said...

I somehow missed that this movie even existed. Your post inspired me to check out the book.

I can't say that I have any runners in particular that I turn to for inspiration. Honestly, I feel most inspired by the everyday runners that I see on my regular routes. I used to run on some of the same trails as a guy who had a western states 100 finisher's shirt. He was an inspiration, especially when I'd see him in the later miles of a long run. I also used to run a similar route to an elderly woman. I feel strange calling her "elderly" though. I'd see her out 3 or 4 times a week, shuffling along at probably a 14 minute/mile pace, but for miles and miles. I'm so impressed that she continued to do something she loves well past an age when post people start to slow down.

Courtney @ Running For Cupcakes said...

I just started reading Unbroken today. I can't wait to finish the book and then see the movie!

Bae Jarde Riley said...

Wow I hadn't heard of his story!! I'm going to add it to my list of books to read this year!

NotRachem said...

I had no idea what Unbroken was about. I am so behind in everything! This definitely makes me want to read it and then watch it!

VITA Train for Life said...

I read the book a year or so ago and I cannot wait to see the movie. I started reading it because of the running aspect but kept reading it because it is truly such an amazing and inspiring story.
And I WANT that calendar!

Annie Crow said...

I got hold of a free copy of the book, sat on it for months and finally read it this summer - once I got started I couldn't stop. I've heard the movie doesn't go into what happened once he returned which is a whole 'nother saga. I probably won't see the movie just because I don't see many movies these days and having read the book I don't feel I need to. I'm glad people are getting introduced to his story that way, though.

Ali K. said...

If you like non-fiction, I think you would like the book. It's well-written and very interesting! I can't put it down!

Ali K. said...

I hope you look into the book; I seriously can't put it down!

I totally agree that everyday runners are so inspiring. Especially when I see "non-traditional" runners at races. So many of them whip my butt, too!

Ali K. said...

The book is definitely better. I'm glad the movie made me interested to read the book because it's superb.

Ali K. said...

I hope you enjoy it! It's really gripping and so interesting!

Ali K. said...

The movie got me interested in the book, but the book is better! I highly recommend it.

Ali K. said...

Yeah, the running is what caught my interest, too, but the other stuff is really what made it amazing. His story is just unbelievable!

It will come as no surprise that the book is better than the movie! They had to streamline events a bit and so things got changed/left out. But the end is amazing.

Ali K. said...

If you've read the book, you can easily pass on the movie. I'm halfway done and already I can see so many details they missed and had to change for the screen. But I appreciate that it motivated me to read the book!