Hero. We throw that word around, especially now, so much that it’s cheap. You’re more likely to find it on a guidance counselor’s wall than in the mouth of someone sincere. And that’s a shame, because there are people who genuinely embody those traits. Some people really are brave as hell, don’t have any quit. Some people really are heroes. Alex Zanardi? Yeah, he’s of ‘em.
For the uninformed: Alex Zanardi is a racing driver from Italy. He won two CART titles and did a stint in Formula 1. He is best known for, in 1996, pulling off the greatest overtaking maneuver of that decade at Laguna Seca. Among racing types, it’s simply known as “The Pass.” In 2001, as the result of a racing accident in Germany, Zanardi lost both of his legs.
So he took up handcycling. Finished fourth in the New York City Marathon, then won the Venice Marathon riding his wheelchair. Then the Rome Marathon. Qualified for, and competed in, the Ironman World Championship. Took gold at the Paralympic Games in London. He was fitted for prosthetic legs, but didn’t think they were any good. So he made his own. Then he decided he wanted to go racing again… in a touring car.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Zanardi while writing a story for Road & Track. The dude is humble, has zero quit. None. He does not understand excuses, does not comprehend limits. He is either broken in the best way, or mentally eons beyond any other racing driver I’ve ever spoken with. Maybe both. When I asked why he wanted (“needed,” he corrected me) to race a car again, he answered without pause: “Because they told me I couldn’t.”
Knowing that, I dare you to watch this documentary and stay in one piece.