Grapevine: Interview: Zanardi Laughs Off Adversity

When Alex Zanardi drives in the final Italian round of the FIA European Touring Car championship next month, he will be completing a remarkable personal comeback.

Grapevine: Interview: Zanardi Laughs Off Adversity

When Alex Zanardi drives in the final Italian round of the FIA European Touring Car championship next month, he will be completing a remarkable personal comeback.

Few who witnessed his horrific crash at the Lausitzring in September 2001, which resulted in him losing both his legs, imagined that the 36-year-old Italian would ever drive a street car again, never mind race at the famous Monza track.

Zanardi lost two litres of blood after the high-speed crash in a CART race and for days the former Formula One driver was fighting for his life. But for the Italian, who survived another horrific crash with Lotus in 1993, getting back on the track is simply part of returning to a normal life.

"Obviously my first goal was related to my life quality which I wanted to improve because the very first day I stepped on prosthetic legs it was terrible, there was so much pain," Zanardi told Reuters on Thursday after testing his adapted BMW 320i for the October 19 race.

"But I knew, because I had so many examples of different people in front of me, that they had achieved something and I said: 'If they did it, why can't I?' I thought...it can be done. It is going to take work and effort but it can be done."

"I knew that my brain was the same and I had no fears about going back to racing," he said. "I knew that if I found a way to deliver the commands in an efficient way that I could be as quick as I was before."

Human Nature

The BMW, with most of the driving functions in a video game style handset on the steering wheel, has provided him with the chance to once again be a racing driver. But what did his family think when, after all the anguish of his accident, he announced he was ready to take the risks again?

"Lets just say that while I have no particular feeling about that problem at all they may have some," he said. "For them in a very small corner of their minds there is a little fear and that is totally understandable.

"It's human nature but probably not as big a fear as a lot of people think it is because when my wife met me she knew that I was a racing driver and she is used to it. She understands that what happened to me had a great deal of bad luck involved in it and, yes, it may happen again but the chances of that are very, very remote."

Zanardi rejected the idea that his desire to continue was out of the ordinary, even for a racing driver, and said others in the sport would give the same answer when asked why they did not quit while they were ahead.

"They will say no, I love what I do. They will say it is my life, the risk is not so high and it is my intention to continue as long as I can do it, as long as I can be competitive and as long as I like it. It is the same for me.

"I just had a very bad accident in between and that makes people think about it but I am no different to the others. I am not any more vulnerable because of my handicap," he said.

Certainly Zanardi is the same confident and likable man he was before his accident, but he said the experience had given him insight into his character. "I learned for sure that every one of us has a hidden tank of energies that just comes out when you need it," he said.

Great Gift

"I know that, because if two-and-a-half years ago you had asked me: 'If you lose both your legs what will you do?' I would have said 'I will kill myself'. I never had that thought at all, therefore I am much more open minded. Things may look one way but can be totally different when you live them," said the Italian.

"I realised that other people had similar problems to mine which they had overcame with success and they went back to a happy life, a normal life and so there was no reason why I couldn't do the same.

"It's a great gift. It is just the way I am, a very optimistic guy, very positive. When you have a problem, you have to have the capability to look around. You should not shut all the doors and think only about your problem.

"Okay, you concentrate, you focus on your problem but you should say 'Hold on a second, I've got to keep things in perspective because I am not the only one in the world who has problems'.

"There has got to be a way. You need to say to yourself: 'Maybe I cannot eliminate these problems completely but I can minimise them', and that is what I have been able to do -minimise."

Racing may have a grip on Zanardi, but it is clearly only a part of the life he says is returning to normal. He grins when he talks about carrying his son on his shoulders again and about swimming with his family despite his disability.

"Today the injury affects my life very, very little and my daily life is back where it was in terms of my humour and in terms of the time I spend laughing."

And he laughs.

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