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Alex's Winding Road

Updated on September 9, 2012

The 13 Laps

The Road Back.

It was a race that should not have been run, many would have said. With the world still recovering from the attacks of September 11, the 2001 American Memorial 500 began at Germany's Lausitz Speedway.

With thirteen laps left, Alex Zanardi was in the lead. The two-time CART series champion had raced to the front from his 22nd starting position. As he came off of pit lane, he lost control of his open-wheel race car and veered onto the track. Another driver, unable to avoid Alex's car, sliced through the weakest part of it.

A member of the circuit's medical team came to assist and slipped and fell. What he thought was oil was actually Alex's blood. Alex's right leg had been severed at the knee, his left leg five inches above the knee, his pelvis was broken in five places, his liver was lacerated and he had lost seventy percent of his blood.

But he was alive. Mere months after the accident, he was walking, using technology and tenacity to adapt to life with prosthetic legs. He also was experimenting with controls to allow him to symbolically finish the race. In May of 2003, he would get that chance, and in a modified car would run the laps he was unable to finish at speeds in excess of 190 miles per hour! He would later compete in a modified touring car, and even win a race.

In 2007, he was invited to a pasta party at the New York Marathon. He he decided instead to participate in the race using a hand powered bicycle. He had been using one to stay in shape, and finished fourth despite only four weeks of training. In 2009, he won the hand cycle division in the Venice Marathon. In 2010, he won at Rome, and in 2011 won the hand cycle division of the New York City Marathon.

Those finishes would give him enough points to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games. Where he would win a Gold Medal in the Time Trial event, defeating the defending champion in the process.

A few years ago, I made a collage for my sister using images from Alex's racing career up to that time in the spirit of a motivational poster. The message was "Fortitude--You can break the body, but the spirit remains strong."

Alex Zanardi, you have proven that once more!

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