I’m not one to be star struck … And I have crossed paths with some iconic brand personalities. Take the Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali. I was there … Just a pebbles throw away when he carried the Torch during the 1996 Olympic Games and the Closing Ceremonies. It was inspiring and emotional, in part because of his exposed battle with Parkinson’s Disease. More important, because he transcended sports … a real humanitarian and someone who used his persona to take on more than a deadly right hook. Then there was the Perfect 10, Nadia Comaneci. I traveled for almost four months and 14 markets with the Romanian icon, up close and professional, with Olympic Gold Medalist, Bart Conner along every step of the way. Nadia was a real treat to work with and the people who showed up to see her with their children named Nadia, left a lasting impression on me. Others were fun to work with, near and far, like having to sneak Michael Jordan into a freight elevator to escort him to a press conference or scripting Mean Joe Greene for remarks that were in the spirit of his timeless Coca-Cola commercial.
Of no surprise to me is the one who left the greatest impression, Louis Zamperini, the Torrance Tornado. His life is documented in the book, Unbroken and that story is not for those with a weak constitution. It’s stuff of legend … images and quotes that should be etched in our memory like the heart-breaking words of Lou Gehrig. Yet for whatever reason, Mr. Zamperini’s story has been silent far too long. Several weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing him live, in Atlanta, on his 95th birthday. It was a church service reconstructed around the life of the Tornado, a man whose most insignificant accomplishment, if not for the war, would have been to be the first human to break the four-minute mile. World War II passed the baton to Roger Bannister who shattered it admirably. But I can’t help to think that it should be footnoted with an asterisk and Louis Zamperini’s name next to it.
All 95 years and what appeared to be a 95-pound frame, was not slowed down in the least. He was quick witted, fast talking and comfortable running circles around any topic. What a treat for myself and my 13-year-old son, Lex. We’ll never forget it. And when the movie comes out, and there will be a movie, we’ll take our front row seats and remember fondly of that early Sunday morning when we were … struck by something more than a star.