The story of Zanardi – his indomitable spirit

The story of Zanardi – his indomitable spirit

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Have you ever heard of Alex Zanardi? I thought not. He is big news right now in Italy now not only because he’s a famous Italian, Bolognese in fact, but because on June 19th he was in a terrible accident. First I have to recount his history.  Born in 1966, his father was a plumber and his mother was a seamstress. His sister died in an automobile accident when he was 13. Despite that he started racing go-carts when he was 13 in one that he built himself. After some early success he attracted sponsors and ultimately won the world championship in that form of racing in 1987.  He continued racing and moved up from go-carts to Formula 3 and finally racing at the highest category, Formula 1 in 1991 at the age of 25. Then in 2001 in a race in Germany on a wet track he lost control of his car and was hit broadside by another driver. He was airlifted to a Berlin hospital with very serious injuries with the the result of the loss of both of his legs. But clearly that is not the end of the story, it’s a new beginning.

I found a video of the crash in 2001. The car that hits his shears off the front of his car. It’s a miracle that he survived at all.

It’s a miracle that he survived at all.

His will and spirit were unshaken and his sense of humor was intact. He joked that if he lost his legs again he’d only need a hex key to replace them and also that he didn’t need to worry about the risk of getting a cold by walking barefoot. Incredibly he return to racing in 2003 at a lower level than Formula 1 but still the open wheeled cars. He did one symbolic race with the specially equipped car at the track where he lost his legs as a symbolic sign of recovery. He did 13 laps, the number of laps that remained to complete the race when he had the accident. He then moved on in 2005 to WTTC (World Touring Car Championship) racing – think of a tricked out BMW 320i for example. In four years of racing those cars he had 4 first place wins. This was no Paralympics he was racing against all drivers.

He didn’t stop there. He became a champion hand- cyclist. His first race was in the 2007 New York City Marathon where he came came in 4th place. He won a gold medal in the 2012 Paralympics in London. He even competed in the 2014 Ironman World Championship using his handbike for the cycling section and a wheelchair for the running section. He’s a guy that always wants to rise to a challenge. He is quoted as saying “It is possible that if the lightning came between my head and neck once it hits me again, but staying at home to avoid this possibility would mean stopping living, so no, I take life…”

Zanardi was on the David Letterman show. You can see the kind of attitude that he has.

Here are a couple of videos that I found that show not only his spirit but his humanity.

Here he is obviously leading the races and pushes his fellow racer and friend across the finish line. What a gesture of humility and humanity!

Here he tackles the swimming part of the Iron Man (MI) – After the first half of the video he’s just talking with friends so you can stop there.

The man never gives up.

And now to the tragedy of Jun 19th. He was cycling in a race in Italy on a public road when he lost control while descending a steep hill and veered into an oncoming truck. He is still in a medically induced coma and was operated on for significant head and face injuries. The outcome is still uncertain but the latest reports speculated that he may at minimum lose his sight.

4 Responses to “The story of Zanardi – his indomitable spirit”

  1. Joy O'Neal Says:

    It sounds like his spirit is indomitable! Hopefully it will help him heal.

  2. Joe Says:

    His spirit is strong but he’s still at this point in “grave but stable” condition and recently had a 4th operation. There is likely significant brain damage with at minimum a loss of sight – i.e. he’ll be blind.


  3. Susan R Frey Says:

    Well written Joe, what a remarkable man, very inspiring.

  4. Joe Says:

    Well, I try. I’ve become a better writer after having written this blog for 10 years. The latest that I have seen on the condition of Zanardi was they were planning to take him out of the medically induced coma but expected him to have significant brain damage and probably will be blind. He’s still in “grave but stable condition”.


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