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Alex Zanardi confronts all obstacles

April 5, 2020
Zanardi mug

Hungaroring (HUN) 1st June 2018. BMW M Motorsport, DTM, Round 3, Alessandro Zanardi (ITA), BMW works driver and BMW brand ambassador

When former two-time CART champion Alessandro (Alex) Zanardi nearly lost his life the Sunday after 2001’s 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the one thing he never did was lose his lust for life. Less than a year after the accident that severed his legs and cost nearly all his blood, there was Zanardi, using his arms alone to climb to the top of the start stand and wave green flags for the 2002 CART race in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Since that time, Zanardi has gained further athletic fame for his exploits in hand cycling, where he’s won tons of gold medals and earned respect from both handicapped and full-bodied fans around the globe, watching him achieve at para-cycling World Championships and Paralympic Games. He raced a specially prepared BMW in the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona where, as a BMW brand ambassador and works driver, Zanardi earned new fans during the winter twice-around-the-clock classic.

The results weren’t what he wanted – Alex’s always entered a race with the intent of winning – as his No. 24 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE GTLM race car finished 31st overall, ninth in class after starting 22nd on the 47-car grid. They were 40 laps behind the winners after a difficult, rain-impacted race that went just under 22 hours, not the traditional 24. That didn’t quash Zanardi’s great attitude about his racing endeavors and life in general. He simply moved forward.

The Italian, who’s remained at his home in the hard-struck northern area of his homeland, remains in good health, as does his family, wife Daniela and son Niccolo. He has his training center at home so he can continue working towards the Tokyo Olympics, now scheduled to take place in August of 2021. “Not everything is always negative as not everything is always positive,” he astutely notes.

“I plan my day around my sporting programs and, of course I am working a lot with the computer. I am staying connected on a professional level by sending emails, preparing stuff. Until recently,” Zanardi says, “all preparations were with regard to the most important objective of the year, which would have been Tokyo. Now I have to reconsider everything, but the way I am, it won’t be difficult to find a new objective to chase. I can focus on different projects – and I have many.”

If he qualifies to go to Tokyo next year, Zanardi will be approaching the age of 55, a time when most athletes have long since hung up their bikes, their cars, their spikes and racquets, baseballs, bats. “For sure I can tell you that, regarding my intentions [to compete], I am perfect. Regarding turning my intentions into achievements, time will tell, we will see.”

Even with his infectious positive attitude, Alessandro Zanardi understands that he’s privileged to be able to isolate from the rampant dangers of the disease that is ravaging his home country. He has his home, he has his training “home” away from

Zanardi with his para-cycle

Fuji International Speedway (JPN), 20th to 21st November 2019. BMW M Motorsport. „SUPER GT x DTM Dream Race“. BMW works driver, BMW brand ambassador Alessandro Zanardi (ITA), practicing with his hand cycle.

the main house at his compound. He has his healthy family surrounding him and making it possible to live the life of a functioning athlete. “Whenever you overcome a problem in your life, it’s an experience for which you have to develop new tools,” Zanardi advises himself and all around him.

“Once the experience is behind you, these tools can possibly stay in your repertoire to overcome other problems which you inevitably have to face during the journey of your life. I can tell that people are rediscovering the sense of community, the sense of friendships, the sense of needing each other in order to really complete themselves,” Zanardi observes. “Because we are nothing if we cannot express our emotions. The real hope is that people will be more talented from now on in looking for that type of inspiration, listening, leaning on others and allowing others to help them. Because that is what we are, and we are nothing without all of this.

“So this is the only positive aspect of what is happening and we have to make sure that this experience will teach everyone a good lesson and we will leave this all behind us, with better instruments to proceed in our life and to live a better one.” Losing his legs didn’t stop Alessandro Zanardi from finding something positive in what happened to him. The current slower pace of life is allowing him to be part of a community that follows the instructions it’s receiving without panicking and “put this enemy behind us in the right way.”

By Anne Proffit

Photos courtesy BMW Motorsport

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