True grit-Zanardi heads to Paralympics

Updated: 2012-05-29 10:29:19


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True grit-Zanardi heads to Paralympics

Italy's Alessandro Zanardi uses his handcycle during a training session near Padua, May 14, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

PADUA, Italy - "The car broke into two pieces, one bit of me stayed with the car and the other bit, which was my legs, went 'arrivederci' in the other direction. And that's how I won the tickets to London 2012," says Alessandro Zanardi with a wry laugh.

Nobody gets to the Olympic or Paralympic Games without huge determination, but the 45-year-old Italian's obstinate refusal to give up is jaw dropping.

Zanardi has gone from Formula One driver to Paralympics hopeful in a life scarred by tragedy from the death of his young sister to a horrific race car accident which severed his legs.

Nothing has quelled his desire to compete and now he is heading to London as a member of the Italian handcycling team.

Zanardi was leading a Champ Car (CART) race at Germany's Lausitz track in 2001 when he lost control of his red Reynard-Honda in the final laps and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani ran into him at more than 350 kph (220 mph).

It was four days after the Sept 11 attacks in New York, and organizers had wondered whether to cancel the race in honor of the victims.

True grit-Zanardi heads to Paralympics

Italy's Alessandro Zanardi uses his handcycle during a training session near Padua May 14, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

"We decided to run, that it was the best way to react to what had happened, to move on, to prove that humankind is stronger than that and has this great ability to overcome difficulties," Zanardi remembers in an interview with Reuters.

After organizers decided to strip the cars of their sponsors logos and display US flags instead, rainstorms threatened to stop the event.

"A lot of things were really strange, didn't seem to be normal," says Zanardi, a two times CART (now IndyCar) champion.

But as the sky "magically" cleared just hours before the start, Zanardi took his place for the event that would change his life in the most horrific way.

After a good start, Zanardi left his competitors trailing. He took a final pit-stop, which went smoothly, seemingly guaranteeing him a place on the podium.

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3 29 17 19
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