In years past, the person victorious in the hand-cycling division of the New York City Marathon has gone unnoticed. That’s not to say that the accomplishment isn’t noteworthy, because it is. But, in terms of the American sporting scene, marathon racing gets little, if any coverage, the most being a mention across ESPN’s ticker at the bottom of the screen.
This year, though, has been a different story. The victor in that hand-cycle class has garnered much publicity from his success that weekend. And, his is a name we’re all very familiar with.
To run through Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi’s career would be both pointless and redundant. Those of us who have followed his career are already aware of the facts and figures (two CART titles, 15 career CART wins, and four wins for BMW in the World Touring Car Championship just for reference).
But, beyond that, it was the manner in which he won that made him so popular. It was his daring dive up the inside of Bryan Herta entering the famed Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 1996. It was his stunning drive from the back of the field to pass Gil de Ferran for the lead in the final at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport in 1997. And, it was his incredible charge from nearly a lap down to pass Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta for the win at Long Beach in 1998.
Zanardi’s “never surrender” attitude behind his driving helped make him a star in his brief three-year stint in the U.S.
In 2001, returning to CART after an unsuccessful stint with the Williams F1 team, Zanardi’s spirit was tested once more. The accident that cost the Italian his legs was one of the most nerve-wracking and gut-wrenching moments we’ve ever seen. It was nothing short of terrifying.
Thankfully, Zanardi escaped with his life and, with the support of wife Daniela and their family, kept his fighting spirit alive. That spirit has been at the forefront of his story in the decade since, as he has returned to a very normal life in spite of the obvious challenges in front him. Nothing was too big and he always figured out a way to overcome whatever obstacle was in front of him
His victory in the New York City Marathon is another epic triumph in his life. The fire was lit four years ago when, only four weeks before that year’s marathon, he entered the race on a small challenge from a friend. He finished fourth in class out of the 53 participants that year, not a bad effort for someone who had only a month’s notice of competing.
Four years later, he is once again at the top step of the podium. And, there doesn’t appear to be an end in site. He stated before the Marathon that his goal is to qualify for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Given his accomplishment in New York, Zanardi is well on his way.
Acknowledging that I have been a fan of Zanardi’s since his conquest of CART, I am both impressed with and inspired by his unwavering spirit and appreciation for life, along with his determination to overcome whatever obstacles are laid in front of him.
The month of October reminded us of the unfortunate realities we sometimes see in motorsports. However, Zanardi’s story is an example of one of its best assets. Motorsport provides a platform that shows us all how far we can go with positive spirit and outlook and an unyielding determination to accomplish whatever it is we set out to do. Alex Zanardi is one of many who have perfectly modeled that very asset.