Alex Zanardi’s sporting career started with him as a Formula One racecar driver, but he ended up a Paralympic cyclist who completed an ironman competition. The story of Alex Zanardi is remarkable.
Born in Bologna, Italy Alex lost his sister at a very early age who had been a promising swimmer. He began racing karts competitively aged 13, building his own karts using the wheels of a dust bin and pipes from his father’s garage. Competitive at a young age he moved quickly through Formula 3 and Formula 3000 before achieving the opportunity to race in Formula One. Between 1991 and 1999 Zanardi signed and raced for Jordan, Minard, Lotus and Williams and competed in 44 Grand Prix, starting 41 of them.
Alex Zanardi won two CART championship titles in North America and spent some time on the Formula One circuit. In 2001, however, a horrific accident occurred at the American Memorial when he had driven from the back of the field to take the lead. His car was hit side-on and split in two. Alex amazingly survived the high-speed accident, losing both legs and three-quarters of his bodies blood. He attributes his miraculous survival to Dr Stephen Olvey, The CART Medical director. Alex has written the opening chapters for Dr Olvey’s book ‘Rapid Response: My Inside Story as a Motor Racing Life Saver’
Despite this adversity remarkably Alex returned to racing less than two years after the accident, and, with specially designed prosthetics and car, competed in the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2003 to 2009.
In 2011, Alex decided to change sports and took up hand biking. This saw him win his first senior international hand biking medal in 2011 (silver medal in the H4 Handbike category) at the UCI World Road Para-Cycling Championships. The next year, 2012, saw him win gold in the first Paralympic Games handbike event held in London. He competed on a carbon-fibre handbike that he had designed and built himself.
The over-achiever, in 2014, took on a further challenge. He took part in the gruelling Ironman challenge in Hawaii, finishing the course in under 10 hours, coming 272nd out of 2,187 able-bodied competitors.
At the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, he won two gold medals in the H5 category road cycling men’s time trial and mixed team relay, and also silver in the road race.
In 2018, in a triathlon competition in Italy, Zanardi smashed the Ironman world record in the disabled category with a new world best time of 8:26’6. This time also placed Alex as the 5th fastest able-bodied triathlete of all time.
Alex is training to compete and succeed at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
“As you approach the finish line, you go through a tunnel of people, all of them cheering and encouraging you. Then I heard the speaker say, ‘Alessandro Zanardi, you are an Ironman!’ It was something phenomenal, something amazing. … I got very emotional at that point. Normally I don’t let things like that get to me, but yesterday I was in tears. It was truly amazing.” – Alex Zanardi
Despite facing adversity, Alex Zanardi has overcome his challenges, reinvented himself, and become a champion once more. He has co-written two books based on his life, ‘Alex Zanardi: My Story’ and ‘Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory’.
Alex does not see himself as someone special. Instead, he sees himself as a regular guy dealt a bad hand and who decided to make the best of it. Everyone, he feels, is able to achieve their dreams, no matter how impossible it may seem. Alex Zanardi the speaker is a true testimony to the power of motivation and goal setting.
"As you approach the finish line, you go through a tunnel of people, all of them cheering and encouraging you. Then I heard the speaker say, 'Alessandro Zanardi, you are an Ironman!’ It was something phenomenal, something amazing. … I got very emotional at that point. Normally I don't let things like that get to me, but yesterday I was in tears. It was truly amazing."