Alex Zanardi: why this is the toughest challenge for an Olympian hero

We got used to his miracles, and he's become the living example of what we can achieve with willpower and the desire to react. Now he's facing a challenge that is almost impossible.

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Alex Zanardi is a special person. In the last two days, many still can't believe what happened to him, and many fans, not only motor sports one, haven't slept thinking about his extraordinary career. A life divided between a first phase, when he was a "normal" champion, and the one after that accident in 2001 when he lost both legs, becoming a "superhero", and doing and obtaining something extraordinary, even beyond the world of motor sports and sports in general.

 

During the first phase, he was a rider who, in the Formula 1 top series, raced in almost fifty GPs without, however, achieving great results.

But here his ability to react already emerged. Instead of ending a career that was still considered high level (racing in the F1, especially as an Italian, isn't so trivial), he started his American dream at almost 30 , making his debut in the Formula Cart, which consecrated him as a champion. He won 15 races but, above all, the '97 and '98 Championships. We still remember Valentino Rossi's overtaking at the Laguna Seca Corkscrew, but few remember that he wasn't the one who invented that maneuver. It was Alex Zanardi, in the 1996 race, who successfully completed an incredible overtaking, cutting the curve. That's when the American fans started to love for him.

After a less fortunate season in Formula 1 in 1999, and after a stop dictated by the end of his contract with Williams, Alex returned to America in 2001, a season that marked his life, as well as his career. In fact, the accident we all remember occurred during the Lausitzring European event, in a spin when exiting the pit lane that, however, led him to intersect the trajectory with a car at high speed. The devastating impact destroyed his Reynard-Honda and severed both his legs. But here is where the miracle happened. Everyone thought he would not make it (and he was even given his last rites). Yet, he survived, despite having lost about five liters of blood (with only one remaining in his body). And after seven cardiac arrests and fifteen operations, he was back on his feet in a few weeks, on two artifical limbs, ready for an incredible challenge with himself.

He went back to racing, using specially modified cars, but his new goal was, above all, paracycling with a handbike that, on one hand, consecrated him as the extraordinary man we know and, on the other, takes us to his current dramatic situation. His successes were extraordinary, from his victory in the New York marathon in 2011, to the Paralympic Games, with two gold medals and one silver in 2012 and an incredible palmarès.

But today's challenge is, unfortunately, greater than he is, or so it seems. The miracle in 2001 occurred when he was 35, in the middle of his career. Now he's 54 and, even if we've gotten used to Alex's miracles and anything seems possible, this collision with a truck caused "a serious cranial-facial trauma with a sunken fracture of the frontal bones." This was the statement the doctors issue. They also said: “If things go well, in the future, we'll also have to proceed with a cranial reconstruction. He will have to remain in intensive care, on ventilation, letting the secondary damage caused by the trauma stabilize over time. It's going to be a long  haul, at best, but his condition could, unfortunately, become worse from one moment to the next. If there will be any improvement, it will be very slow over time. His neurological condition will instead be assessed when he wakes up, if he wakes up. Making suppositions on the outcome is useless right now. I only know that I am absolutely convinced that it's worth treating him." We can only cross our fingers and hope - regarding the phrase: "I only know that I am absolutely convinced it's worth treating him" - that he's stronger than his destiny, even if, this time, hoping is somewhat difficult to do.

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Translated by Leila Myftija

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