"You can take every day as a new opportunity to add something to your life. You just go for it whenever it’s possible…and if the opportunity is available, why shouldn’t you try? With this type of attitude is (how) I came back to a fantastic life, where all the things I’m doing these days is more or less related to my condition."
If so, I give you Alex Zanardi.
...and auto racing.
I have been a huge racing fan -- particularly of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 -- for more than 35 years. I have attended the 500 16 times and have followed the sport with lots of enthusiasm for a long, long time.
In that long time of "fandom", there have been few drivers like Zanardi. In the late 1990s he was one of the most dominant drivers in the world, winning 15 races and two championships between 1996-98. And when you see a driver do donuts after winning a race? Alex was the pioneer of the "victory burnout".
He was everything a race driver should be: fast, confident and fearless, with an unquenchable desire to win. I'd easily put him in the Top 10 among the most purely talented drivers I have ever seen.
He was also a good runner, reportedly taking about 35 minutes to complete a 10K training run.
All of that changed on September 15, 2001, while participating in a CART race in Germany. After spinning out his car came to a stop across the track, and he was t-boned by another driver who was unable to get around him. The impact severed both of his legs around his knees, and he eventually lost close to 75 percent of his blood in one of the more gruesome racing accidents in recent memory. If it weren't for incredibly heroic measures on the part of the medial and safety team that day, he would've certainly lost his life.
Many people would've had a difficult time carrying on with their lives after such a traumatic injury, but one thing that Zanardi possesses even more than his driving ability is his spirit. His nature of always being friendly to others and always searching for a positive outlook on life caused him to open another window when a door to his life was closed.
He began by assisting in the design of prosthetic legs that eventually helped him back into a race car several years later, and between 2005-09 he won four races as part of a BMW touring car series. He also still dreams of driving in the Indy 500, which was a race he never got to run.
But looking for yet another challenge, Zanardi took up handcycling in 2007, and after just a month of training finished fourth in his division at the New York Marathon. He now has four marathon wins, including one at New York in 2011.
Even with that success, Alex still reached higher, and in 2012 represented Italy at the Paralympics in London, where he won two gold medals and a silver, and just last month completed the Ironman Kona in a time of nine hours, 47 minutes, 14 seconds, using a handcycle in the bike stage and a wheelchair on the run.
Alex is an inspiration to all of us, as no matter what our situation happens to be, we could (and should) always dream bigger dreams. The most amazing thing about Zanardi is that if you go a Google search of his image, you will find him smiling in almost every single picture. He's always positive, is always moving forward and he never, ever quits. He celebrates life every single day.
I thought about writing about him after watching him on David Letterman last night, and I will post clips of his interview at the bottom. I also pulled a quote from the interview, which is the quote at the top of the page and one that I'm really going to meditate on for the next few days.
Alex Zanardi has found a joy in life that I can't help but to wish I could emulate. He's been an inspiration to me for a long time, and I hope he is now one to you as well.