Louis Zamperini, a former USC NCAA champion mile-runner in 1938 and 1939, and World War II prisoner of war, recently received the 2012 NCAA Inspiration Award. The award is reserved for those who use determination, perseverance and dedication to overcome life-changing obstacles.
Zamperini is the second Trojan to win the award. The first was swimmer Mike Nyholt, organizer of USC’s Swim with Mike and the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, who received the award in 2004.
A member of three NCAA teams, Zamperini was the NCAA champion in the mile run in 1938 and 1939, and co-captained the 1940 USC team. He was a three-year letterman and set a record in the mile run (4.08.3) that lasted for 15 years. He also placed eighth in the 5,000 meter race at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. During World War II, he spent 47 days lost at sea and two-and-a-half years as a Japanese prisoner of war. His experience became the subject of a CBS television feature that aired during the 1998 Winter Olympics. He was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.
Zamperini also wrote a best-selling autobiography in the 1950s called Devil at my Heels, which was re-released in 2003. A biography of his life titled Unbroken was published in 2010 and has recently risen to No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.
He continues to give motivational speeches to various groups, including military veterans and USC student-athletes.
“An inspiration is probably an understatement,” USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone said of Zamperini. “It’s hard to describe the worth, the value of such a treasure as Louis Zamperini … Louis is a true American hero.”
The award will be presented in January’s annual NCAA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind.