Paralympian Alex Zanardi Proves An Inspiration For Serious Injury Sufferers


The Law Of... remaining positive after a serious injury

Paralympian Alex Zanardi made headlines this summer, as he won two gold medals in the H5 category road cycling men's time trial and mixed team relay, as well as a silver in the road race event.

Alex Zanardi Shows Rehabilitation & Attitude Key In Aftermath Of Serious

The former motorsport star has often been praised for his never-say-die attitude to life, an attitude that has motivated others who suffered similar life changing injuries to Zanardi.

It was Alex Zanardi that inspired Alex Brooker, host of Channel 4 program The Last Leg, to deliver an emotional speech about disability in honour of the Italian cyclist after he won his road time trial gold in Rio.

Describing Zanardi's incredible career, David Erwin – Partner on Simpson Millar's Serious Injury team – explains how rehabilitation options now means that the future can hold opportunity for those involved in a serious accident.

Motorsport Star Turns Paralympian

Alex Zanardi won the CART championship in North America in both 1997 and 1998, before becoming a Formula One driver.

It was during an open-wheel race that Zanardi suffered a horrific injury, as in 2001 he was involved in a serious crash during an Indy Car race; the result of which was an amputation of both of his legs – one on, and one above, the knee.

Soon after the accident, Zanardi was fitted with two prosthetic legs and began a rapid and ambitious rehabilitation program, with the implicit goal of returning to racing.

Using custom prosthetics that he designed himself, as he was allegedly dissatisfied with those commercially available, it only took Zanardi two years until he was back in a race car.

In 2003, Zanardi ceremonially drove 13 laps of the same Lausitzring circuit that was the scene of his crash – as he had been 13 laps from finishing. Using a specially modified car, Zanardi would have qualified fifth for an upcoming race with the time he posted during his ceremonial laps – this was a good enough sign to Zanardi that he could pursue a return to racing.

He returned to racing full time a year later, racing in the World Touring Car Championship and winning a series of events between 2005 and 2009 when he announced his retirement from racing; despite this Zanardi has returned again to race for BMW in the Spa 24 hour touring car race last year, it would seem he hopes that his racing career is not yet over, remarking that he has many friends in Munich.

Not content with his successful return to the race circuit, Zanardi sought other sports and re-invented himself as a handcyclist, coming 4th in a New York City marathon handcycle, after just four weeks of training.

He went on to win two golds and a silver at the 2012 London Paralympic games, before boasting the same haul at the most recent games in Rio.

Rehabilitation After A Serious Injury

Zanardi's story is inspirational, however there are many others who face their life changing injuries with the same can-do attitude – in a recent TED talk former cross-country skier Janine Shepherd explained how her dreams of Olympics glory were dashed after a serious road traffic accident.

Much like Zanardi, Shepherd met her injury with a positive attitude, claiming that a broken body is not a broken person – she realised that her identity was more than the circumstances of her accident.

Shepherd went on to walk again, despite doctors telling her she was lucky to survive the accident and was a partial paraplegic; she earned a pilot's license and a new career that saw her become the youngest – and only female – director of Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

These incredible stories of resolve in the face of adversary and life changing injury should offer hope to those who are struggling to come to terms with their own serious injuries, as David explains:

"For many of my clients the most difficult aspect for them is coming to terms with their new life and accepting that their life has been changed forever."

"I echo Shepherd's moving assertion that a broken body is not a broken person and while injuries may change someone's life, they do not have to ruin their life."

"The inspirational stories of Alex Zanardi and Janine Shepherd should offer hope to those who have suffered their own serious injury and shows that with the right rehabilitation and a focus on attainable goals, great things are possible."

"At Simpson Millar we always focus on the best outcomes for our clients who have sadly been involved in a life changing accident and with new technology and multiple studies focusing on rehabilitation for those suffering from serious injuries, the future does hold opportunities for those who have suffered a brain injury, amputations, or paralysis."

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