These days, it is hard to find a hero or role model in the sporting world. Parents, if you are trying to find a sporting role model for your kids to look up to, look no farther. He’s not in baseball, he’s not in football, he’s not in basketball. Look in motor sport and the Paralympic games. As an example of perseverance and determination you’d be hard pressed to look beyond Alex Zanardi.
One of my heroes is Alex Zanardi, a champion racing driver turned champion paralympic athlete. After suffering a terrible crash in F1 and seemingly losing his F1 career, he won two CART championships in the United States. Aftewards, he returned to F1 for a season where he ran a problem-plagued season with the Williams team. By 2001 he was back in the US, racing for Mo Nunn’s team in CART. On September 15, 2001, Zanardi was involved in a near tragic crash at Lausitzring Speedway in Germany.
Zanardi lost both of his lower legs and nearly bled to death. He would have bled out on scene had it not been for the quick and skilled response of the CART safety team that traveled to each CART race.
Personally, I probably would have given up at that point but not Zanardi. He quickly got back on his feet using prosthetic legs and not only learned to walk, he learned to drive again. He not only just learned to drive, he returned to motor sport! In 2003, he returned to the Lausitzring and using a car equipped with hand controls he completed the final 13 laps of the race he didn’t finish in 2001. I watched both races and I’m not afraid to say that I watched him complete those 13 laps in tears. He went on to return to competitive motor sport, racing with BMW in the World Touring Car Championship, winning a race before retiring. Following his motor sport career, he turned to paracycling with the same drive, enthusiasm, perseverance, and determination.
No one who has followed his motor sport career is surprised by the gold he won this week at the Paralympic Games. Alex Zanardi is a true champion and a great competitor. Unsurprisingly, it seems that he’s not finished. Not only does he have more races in the 2012 Paralympic games, he’s looking at running at the Indianapolis 500 next year! If you are looking for a hero or role model for you kids, you can do no worse than Zanardi. This picture that has been circulating on Facebook says it all.
If you aren’t familiar with Alex Zanardi’s career and efforts to return to motor sport after his 2001 crash, read his autobiography “My Sweetest Victory.”
If you’d like to learn more about the CART Safety Team, the development of safety and emergency response in American open wheel racing, and the efforts that saved Alex Zanardi’s life, read Dr. Stephen Olvey’s book “Rapid Response.”