London, September 5, 2012
The list of winners of the Laureus Comeback of the Year Award includes some of the most inspiring people ever to grace the sporting arena.
But one in particular, racing this week in Paralympic handcycling, is one of the most remarkable of all.
In the nineties, Alex Zanardi was known as a formidable racing driver.
He enjoyed successful stints in the sport’s top flight, Formula 1, in which, during two separate spells, he notched up over 40 race appearances.
But he was also a successful CART racer, and following the termination of his contract with the Williams F1 team in 1999, he decided to return to the specification once more in 2000.
Within a year both his career and his life were thrown into chaos.
In 2001 during the European Memorial CART race in Lausitz, Germany, Alex was at the centre of one of the worst racing accidents ever seen.
His car spun coming out of the pits and was hit by another coming down the straight at 200mph. The impact was so great that his vehicle was ripped in two.
Alex lost both his legs that day.
Demonstrating incredible commitment and passion, Zanardi returned to motor racing in October 2003 and went on to complete a full season in the European Touring Car championship in 2004.
On his return, he drove a specially adapted car in which the throttle was mounted on the upper part of the steering wheel, the brake pedal was shaped to prevent the driver’s artificial limb from losing grip, whilst the clutch actuated through a button on the gear lever.
Though his return to his sport in this way made him worthy of recognition by the Laureus Academy, Zanardi’s journey following this has gone on to show how inspirational a figure he truly is.
Alex retired from motor racing in 2009, but it certainly wasn’t because he was finished with sport altogether.
That’s because he would now focus on the new sport he had adopted since 2007: hand cycling.
From the very start, success came remarkably quickly.
In 2007 he achieved 4th place in the New York City Marathon in the handcycle division after only four weeks of training.
By the end of 2011, however, Zanardi had finally won the New York Marathon at his fourth attempt. He added this first place finish to previous victories at the Venice Marathon in 2009 and the Rome Marathon in 2010.
Perhaps his most exciting achievement of the past year, however, has been his qualifying to race for the Italian team at the London 2012 Paralympics.
Zanardi may be approaching 46 now, but considering his achievements so far, it’s a safe bet he will be chasing nothing but gold.
Alex has said that he started handcycling in order to race for Italy at London 2012.
Today he achieves that goal, regardless of what position he finishes.