Costello, Zamperini Win Inspiration Awards

Courtesy of NCAA.org

Cal's Costello made each day her best

By Kristen Leigh Porter
NCAA.org

Jill Costello's personal journal outlined six rules to live by:

• Love
• Live
• Be Grateful
• Visualize
• Laugh
• Believe.

Inspire could have been added to the list. It describes Costello's effect on others after her diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer following a promising junior season for the University of California, Berkeley, rowing team. Costello earned a seat as the coxswain for the varsity eight, walked across the stage to receive her college diploma and helped raise money and awareness for the deadliest of cancers.

She died June 24, 2010, at age 22, less than a month after the Golden Bears finished second at the NCAA Division I Women's Rowing Championship.

Costello, one of two winners of the NCAA Inspiration Award, will be recognized in January during the Honors Celebration at the 2012 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis. World War II veteran and former Southern California runner Louis Zamperini is the other honoree.

"Jill was a great inspiration to me and many people because she taught us a simple lesson: you have your best life by making each day your best day, by living it fully and completely and finding the joy in each 24 hours," her mother Mary Costello said.

The Inspiration award is presented to a current coach or administrator or to a current or former varsity student-athlete who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others. Herb Benenson, assistant athletic director for athletic communications at Cal, nominated Jill, the 2010 Pac-10 Athlete of the Year, for the award.

The life of the 5-4, 110-pound dynamo was the subject of a number of regional and national attention. ESPN aired an in-depth feature on Jill's life this past summer and Sports Illustrated published a piece on her last fall. Her life also was highlighted in NCAA Champion magazine.

"Though forced to deal head on with one of the most difficult challenges anyone could ever have to face, Jill found a way to inspire thousands of people across the world with her courage, grace and dignity," Benenson said. "Not only did her approach to her diagnosis help motivate her teammates, but her story touched - and continues to touch - members of the entire rowing community and beyond."

Jill's words to live by are forever etched in the memory of her boyfriend Bryce Atkinson, a former member of the Cal men's crew team. That final year, they put the cancer aside and lived life like two college kids in love.

"We didn't worry about cancer and chemo…That inspired me, now that she's gone, on how I need to live my life," Atkinson, 23, said.

That also means carrying on Jill's mission to beat lung cancer - big time.

Atkinson serves as director of marketing for the Jill's Legacy Advisory Board, affiliated with the California-based Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation that Jill became involved with following her diagnosis.

When Jill's Legacy was officially launched in March 2011, BJALCF namesake Bonnie Addario said she was "inspired and extremely hopeful about the message that these incredible young people can send to the world about lung cancer." This year alone, $293,000 has been raised through grants and Jog for Jill events, which will fund hand-picked young lung cancer researchers and lung cancer awareness campaigns.

The first out-of-state Jog for Jill event was held September 25 on the Cornell University campus where more than 600 participants raised more than $45,000. Another Jog for Jill is scheduled for Nov. 13 on the Tulsa campus.

Sorority sister and close friend Darby Anderson, a former Cal water polo student-athlete who became a full-time employee of BJALCF in January, said Jill was passionate about changing the stigma of lung cancer and finding a cure for the disease.

Lung cancer is still the number one cancer killer with a 15.5 percent survival rate, Anderson said. People still associate it with smoking, despite the fact that now up to 80 percent of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients never smoked or stopped smoking decades before their diagnosis.

"College students especially can really relate to her story because she was so young and very much a 'normal' college girl before she was diagnosed," the 23-year-old Anderson said, noting support from the rowing teams at Penn, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Loyola Marymount. "This is why we have seen so much success at the college level with raising money and awareness for lung cancer."

The Cal women's crew team, which took third at the 2011 NCAA championships, celebrated Jill this past season rather than mourning her. The dual with rival Stanford has been renamed "The Jill Row" and the team wears teal and navy tank tops with Jill's profile on the back instead of the Cal bear for the competition. At the Pac-10 Women's Challenge in March, Beat Lung Cancer was unveiled as the new varsity eight boat.

"Jill would be honored to receive this award, and I know her family is touched by the recognition," coach Dave O'Neill said of the NCAA Inspiration Award. "Her strength and resolve was limitless, especially during the most difficult moments. Whether it was racing a tough Stanford crew or battling lung cancer, Jill always gave everything she had."

Jill will receive the Service Award from the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame next month and introduced with the Hall of Fame class at the home football game vs. Oregon State. Jill's Legacy also will be holding a fundraiser that weekend.

For more information, visit JillsLegacy.org.

Photo Credit: GoldenBearSports.com

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Award Winner Transforms From Survivor To Inspirer

Each time Louis Zamperini signs a copy of his life's story - the bestselling book "Unbroken" - he starts with the words "Be hardy."

That, Zamperini says, is the key to his jaw-dropping story from World War II, which starts in a hopeless situation before descending into the darkest pits of inhumanity, revealing in the process the potential of a man's spirit. The Southern California track star and Olympian was stranded on a raft without food or water, washed ashore into enemy hands, beaten, tortured and starved. But he emerged to find spiritual salvation and become an inspiration to the millions who have heard his tale - the reason Zamperini will be honored with the NCAA's 2012 Inspiration Award at January's NCAA Convention.

Zamperini is one of two Inspiration Award recipients this year. The other is Jill Costello, a former rower at the University of California, Berkeley, who died in June 2010 after a long battle with cancer during which she established a national foundation and raised awareness of the disease.

The NCAA Inspiration Award may be presented to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics, or to a current or former varsity letter-winner at an NCAA institution. The award is reserved for people who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome or deal with the event. The Inspiration Award is not presented automatically on an annual basis.

The 94-year-old Zamperini more than meets the criteria. Still, when he signs his biography or speaks to audiences hoping to draw insight from his experiences, he keeps the message simple. Stay mentally and physically hardy, he says. Be capable of solving your own problems. Prepare for any eventuality, and refuse to give in to adversity.

"Don't take the easy way out," Zamperini says. "Resist all temptations to indulge, temptations to hate, temptations to take the easy way out. Ask yourself: If I do this, can I live with myself for the rest of my life?"

Zamperini, a mischievous youth from Torrance, Calif., trained himself to push through difficult tests as a young track star. He set the high school world record in the mile before, at age 19, finishing eighth in the 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Olympics. A future medal was gleaming in his eyes as he moved on to the University of Southern California and set the collegiate record for the mile two years later. But when World War II broke out, those athletics achievements turned out to be a warm-up for a 31-month series of unimaginable circumstances that tested the resolve of Zamperini's spirit.

Stationed in Hawaii in 1943 as an Army bombardier, Zamperini was sent on a rescue mission with 11 others aboard an aging B-24. Zamperini was one of three survivors when engine failure caused the plane to crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where they floated on a raft for 47 days with only a few pints of water and six chocolate bars. Once those rations were depleted, they nursed on small fish, sharks, birds and rainwater. The trio endured severe dehydration, starvation, severe sun burns by day and cold by night, daily shark attacks and an assault from a Japanese bomber.

Yet when the raft finally washed ashore on a Pacific island, two weeks after one of the survivors perished at sea, the destination presented a more dreadful prospect than life on the raft. After drifting 2,000 miles, they washed onto the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands, where Zamperini was taken prisoner. For 30 months he was jailed, threatened with execution, tortured, beaten and humiliated for his captor's amusement, employed as a slave laborer and starved. By war's end his weight had dropped well below 100 pounds, a skeletal shadow of his Olympic form. And while he was hailed as a hero upon his return to the United States - where he was presumed dead - his nights were consumed by irate dreams of strangling his Japanese captors. His medicine for the pain became alcohol.

As Zamperini struggled to maintain a grip on his life, his wife, Cynthia, urged him to attend a speaking engagement by young evangelist Billy Graham. The message he heard of forgiveness changed Zamperini's view of life. He formed the Victory Boys Camp, where he taught troubled juveniles the skills to succeed in life. And in the early 1950s he decided to become a missionary to Japan, returning to the POW camps where he was once held, facing his captors and forgiving them for their war-time actions.

His odyssey of endurance and forgiveness has since been heralded as an example of man's virtue, even when faced with its polar antagonists. It was told during the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Games, where he was asked to carry the Olympic torch in a moment that symbolized the spirit of the event. It was also laid down in three different books - two autobiographies (each titled "Devil at my Heels") and the current bestseller written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Laura Hillenbrand, which was named Time Magazine's 2010 Non-Fiction Book of the Year. That account, which reached No.1 on the New York Times' bestseller list, was recently optioned to Universal Studios.

Even at 94, Zamperini continues to give motivating speeches to corporate and Christian groups, military veterans and USC student-athletes, where his magnetic personality and mesmerizing life story continue to enthrall audiences.

"An inspiration is probably an understatement," said USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone. "It's hard to describe the worth, the value of such a treasure as Louis Zamperini. ... Louis is a true American hero. Those are hard to find, and hard to come by these days. He's a national treasure."

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