Life After Near Death

Alex Zanardi
Alex Zanardi celebrates victory in the Men’s road time trial H4 at the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

Life is awfully unfair and cruel at the best of times.

Alex Zanardi had a middling Formula One career, one which his supreme talent did not deserve. His first Formula One stint consisted of short-term drives for Jordan and Lotus, but a terrible crash at Spa in 1993 kept him out of the rest of the season. When he returned in 1994, Lotus’s original Formula One team fell apart, and he was without a drive.

So he tried ChampCar/CART. Against the advice of his chief engineer, Chip Ganassi signed up Zanardi. Finally, Zanardi had a car that matched his immense talent. Proof of this…The Pass. Credited with resurgeing the popularity of performing do-nuts after a race victory, Zanardi won two championships before deciding to return to Formula One.

However, like his earlier Formula One drive, a Williams team that was moving out of an incredible period of success, did not offer a car befitting of the man. After one season, the Formula One dream was over again. Ironically, Mo Nunn – who told Chip Ganassi not to sign up Zanardi – would sign him up for his own team in 2000.

In a race in Lausitzring, Germany, in September 2001, life reminded us how unfair it is. Leading the race, Zanardi’s drive ended in a horrific crash. His life was in great danger as he lost more than three-quarters of his blood volume. Instead of his name joining the terrible list of motor racing tragedies, Zanardi would lose both his legs and not lose his life.

Embarking on a rehabilitation program, Alex dreamed of racing again. After testing a specially modified car, Zanardi would enter the World Touring Car series in 2005. Nearly four years after his near-fatal accident, Zanardi would win a WTCC race. Despite his competitive open-wheel racing career being over, Zanardi tested a BMW Sauber F1 car in 2006.

Alex left the WTCC in 2009 after taking up handbiking. After taking fourth place in the New York City marathon’s handbiking division in 2007 (after only four weeks of training), Zanardi made the 2012 Summer Games in London his goal. Victories in the Venice and Rome marathons were followed by the elusive win in New York.

Incredibly, it would be a circuit he would have raced at in his past – Brands Hatch – that Zanardi would face his greatest test. And he conquered it. Alex won gold. Despite all the adversity he had faced, Alex will once again stand at the top of a podium. And he will continue to inspire many in the process.

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