Alex Zanardi: Don’t Dream It’s Over: Part Two
Just to recap, the loveable Italian racing driver Alex Zanardi lost his legs in 2001 in a sickening crash in Germany. That he survived that alone defies belief. What he’s done since just makes us all feel humble. Meet the now Paralympic athlete.
Two time IndyCar champion and F1 racer, Zanardi was on the verge of retirement when he crashed at the Lausitzring, Germany in September 2001. By all reckoning –including his own – he should have died that day. Thankfully for us all, he didn’t.
Not only did he live, he dealt with the loss of his legs in the only way he knows. Determination. Williams made an F1 car available for him to test. He also raced – and won – for BMW in the World Touring Car Championship, against some of the fiercest competitors in touring cars. The most amazing thing for me is that racing with prosthetic legs, he chose to brake with his prosthetic foot instead of hand controls, because “I have more feeling that way.”
Yes, they had to adapt the braking system, but my god it shows Alex’s utter determination. His mind is always thinking ahead, and positively.
Dario Franchitti, four-time IndyCar champion, two-time Indy 500 winner and very good friend with Alex, summed it up best in an interview with SPEED TV. “He’s just different,” said Dario. “He doesn’t think the same as us. He doesn’t know what the word ‘no’ means. When he had his accident, I thought if he gets through this… He will show us some incredible stuff.”
Boy did he. First Alex survived, beyond anyone’s predictions. He – 20 months after his crash – ran ‘demonstration’ laps that would have put him fifth on the grid.
Zanardi has, in his own words, a ‘curious’ mind. From racing, he had to learn to walk again, and develop new legs. As he heads to the Paralympics, that mindset is still there. And so is his humour… Just hours after the New York Marathon he gave this interview to SPEED TV in America.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “in motorsport everything you have to do in order to reach what you are aiming for is very similar.”
He heads for the Paralympics in London with a real chance of a medal. All of the competitors are heroes, but who would begrudge Alex a medal? Personally I want it to be a gold one.
Alex has a competitive mind. From racing cars to legs to handcycling: “I am a very curious person,” says Alex, “and this has helped me through my entire career. I go to my garage, look at my bicycle and think about all the modifications that I could do. There is no doubt I have wasted some time, but I have definitely made gains on my competitors that they have never tried.”
From the response MotorsportRetro.com has had to part one of this series, Alex is already a huge hero, but he still won’t accept he’s an inspiration.
“My plan is to do what I like,” he says. “If along the way someone says ‘Alex what you are doing is great’, the only thing I can do is raise my hat and say ‘thank you’.
“But I won’t succeed in amazing anyone if it was only for this reason.”
So, is Alex Zanardi charged and determined for the Paralympics? You’d better believe it.
“I have a great respect for my rivals,” he says, “and I’m going to London thinking I will do well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I could win one or two medals – and if I don’t, life will go on anyway…
“People believe that paracycling is not as competitive as motorsport,” he adds. “Believe me, I would not have dumped motorsport for this if it wasn’t as competitive. This is not easy, by any means.”
Wednesday September 5th is the day that Alex races at Brands Hatch. In his younger years Alex raced there in F3000, and also after his accident in World Touring Cars. Again, laughing, he says: “Sure I know the circuit, and that should be an advantage – I thought. Then we tested with the chair there, and very quickly I realised a wheelchair is very different to a race car!”
“It’s like preparing a cake. The ingredients are different, but the approach is the same. It’s motorsport, but in a different way,” he says.” It’s a never-ending chase to get it right.”
The Brands course is challenging to walk around when you are fully fit. To do it in a chair requires determination, and as you can tell, Alex has that in spades and more. Just the thought of themselves pushing up to Druids hairpin makes me tired thinking of it.
Alex names one Paralympic rival that he ‘fears’ – American Oscar Sanchez. “He’s the one I need to beat, and I have done. But he has been practically unbeatable.
“I’m close, but who knows what will happen on the day?”
I will leave the last words to Max Papis, good friend with Alex and able to show his respect perfectly in a second language.
“His determination brought him to where he is right now,” says Max. “Even if he doesn’t have his legs, he is still the same person, with the same will. Alex has a way of showing people that you can still reach your goals and dreams in life, even when things don’t go exactly your way.”
That says it all.
Very special thanks to Jeff Pappone, Globe and Mail, for additional reporting