I love watching the Winter Games, and I eagerly anticipate its return every four years. It’s so much more than just sport—these are the moments athletes have worked toward their whole lives, and they travel across the world to compete on behalf of their country. To celebrate, here’s a list of six inspiring books written by or about these stunning athletes. In researching this list, it struck me that so many of these books focus on times of war or depression because the games create an opportunity in a dark time for hope, for an underdog to win, and for a country to come together to cheer one another on.
If you haven’t read UNBROKEN yet, move it to the top of your list! One of the most inspirational tales out there, this is the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini. In his youth, Zamperini was a delinquent who channeled his rebelliousness into running, which eventually led him to the Berlin games. As World War II loomed, he enlisted as an airman and embarked on an unforgettable journey: a doomed flight, a life raft, circling sharks, enemy fire, and an extraordinarily moving trial of endurance.
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.
The US women’s soccer team has become a beacon of hope for young girls everywhere who dream of becoming athletes. Abby Wambach, a two-time gold medalist, led her team not only as the highest goal scorer (male or female) in the history of soccer, but also as a fierce advocate for women’s rights. In FORWARD, she writes with candor about embracing challenges set in her path with courage and heart.
THE BOYS OF WINTER is about the team that taught us to believe. The 1980 US hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” became the underdog story that captured America’s heart. Wayne Coffey vividly describes the chemistry the team had, and how this band of amateurs took on, and defeated, the Russian hockey juggernaut at the height of the Cold War.
I had the pleasure of hearing Julie Checkoway speak about her book a few years ago, and the way she discussed the kids in this book has remained with me. In 1937, a schoolteacher on the Hawaiian island of Maui inspired a group of children to overcome insurmountable odds and train for the games. This band of Japanese American kids didn’t have a pool to train in, so they swam in the filthy irrigation ditches that wound down the hills into the sugarcane fields. Soon racing competitors twice their size and shattering records, the children became national champs and fought for their shot at glory.
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is a story of finding hope in the most desperate of times. A ragtag rowing team made up of the sons of loggers, farmers, and shipyard workers came together to crew for the University of Washington. Never expected to beat out the elite teams of the East Coast let alone make it to the tournament, they went on to defeat the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler in 1936. This book has emotional heart, riveting history, and elicits a swell of pride for the American underdogs as they pull off the impossible.
Re-creating the history of an entire era through the delicate hull of a racing shell, this is the improbable story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal: nine working-class boys from the American West who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world the meaning of commitment, determination, and optimism.
She’s America’s sweetheart: the bubbly gymnast who worked her way from foster care to the 2016 Olympic team. Simone Biles now has a combined total of 19 medals, making her the most decorated American gymnast. In COURAGE TO SOAR, Biles shares her own personal and inspirational story, and describes how small acts of courage helped her achieve her goals.