Louie’s running abilities improve. He breaks the national high school record for fastest mile and gains a nickname: “The Torrance Tornado.” Realizing he may have a shot at running for the Americans at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Louie trains even harder. His successes earn him multiple college sports scholarships. In 1935, Louie accepts the University of Southern California’s offer but delays entry until the following semester so that he can train full time.
As Louie succeeds as a runner, it both opens doors for him and gives him a sense of dignity that feeds on itself: his “fight”, which used to get him in trouble, now pushes him to try to be the best he can be. Once the terror of the town, now through his nickname he proudly carries the town’s name during his competitions.
Louie trains for the 1,500 yard race until he comes to the realization that he’s too young and inexperienced to beat the older and more professional American runners competing for the chance to go to Berlin. Refocusing his energies, he trains his sights on the less competitive 5,000 yard race. Louie wins the preliminary Olympics trials and travels to New York City to compete in the final trial. The residents of Torrance see Louie off, presenting him with travelling money and gifts.
Louie encounters his first obstacle and overcomes it with grace. Instead of giving up at the first sign of adversity, Louie shows his resilience by competing in a race that he’s unprepared for and still winning. The town has also forgiven Louie of his past crimes, showing that he’s redeemed himself in their eyes. In a reversal that mirrors Louie’s own 180 degree transformation, the town now lavishes a boy who used to steal from them with gifts.
During one of the hottest summers in recorded New York City history, Louie trains for the final trial. His biggest competition is Don Lash, who most sports commentators think will come in first during the trial. As long as Louie comes in second place, he will advance to the Olympics, but he plans to give Lash a run for his money. On the night before the race, Louie lays in bed thinking of all the people he will disappoint if he loses.
Louie’s determination to beat out the more experienced runner shows just how much he believes in himself. But this self-confidence doesn’t make Louie self-centered or conceited – Louie knows that he not only runs for himself, but also for his town. He’s truly transformed from a young punk into an admirable athlete.
During the race, Lash stays in the lead while Louie conserves his energy by staying behind the other runners. On the last lap, Lash begins to slow down and Louie seizes the opportunity. Running at full speed, Louie and Lash cross the finish line at the same time. It’s a tie and both men take their place on the Olympic team.
This race can be understood as a metaphor for Louie’s life. Early on, Louie trailed behind his peers, so far in fact that he feared the government would sterilize him for being “unfit.” But, in his final years of high school, Louie literally raced ahead of everyone else, even winning a spot at the Olympics.
Hearing the good news on the radio, the residents of Torrance explode in celebration, honking their car horns, gushing into the Zamperini’s home, and drinking to Louie’s success late into the night. Louie is the youngest distance runner to ever make the American team.
The chapter culminates with Louie’s complete redemption. Now a local hero and the pride of their town, the townspeople forgive and forget Louie’s boyhood transgressions.