LONGFIELD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 08: Alessandro Zanardi of Italy competes in the Mixed H 1-4 relay on day 10 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Brands Hatch on September 8, 2012 in Longfield, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Fifteen years ago, Italian race-car driver Alex Zanardi lost his legs during a CART race crash. Now, he’s won three gold medals at the Paralympic Games, including a particularly special one in Rio.

On September 15th, 2001, Zanardi was about to finish the end of the American Memorial 500 at the Euro Speedway Lausitz in Klettwitz, Germany. Right before finishing the race, Zanardi’s car was hit, causing him to crash.

The accident resulted in Zanardi needing to have both of his legs amputated above the knee, but that didn’t stop him from being an award-winning athlete.

Just shy of 15 years after losing both legs, Zanardi completed the men’s road hand-cycling time trial at the Rio Paralympics in 28 minutes and 36.81 seconds. That time wasn’t just good enough for a medal, it was fast enough for the gold as Zanardi finished ahead of Australia’s Stuart Tripp and Oscar Sanchez from the United States.

“At the time, I was asked if I would ever step back in a race car, but what was very important for me was to go into the bathroom and pee on my own, but I could not do that. I had to be helped. That was my No. 1 priority,” Zanardi said after his race Wednesday. “Day by day I managed to regain control and strength, regain some confidence and concentrate on different things and here I am now.”

This isn’t Zanardi’s first Paralympic success either. During the 2012 Paralympics in London, Zanardi won two golds and a silver.

While London meant a lot to the 49-year-old because it was his first Paralympics, Rio meant even more. Back in 1996, Zanardi qualified for his first pole position in Rio.

“When it was announced that the Olympic Stadium was going to be built there I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve always loved that place and been super fast there,”‘ Zanardi said. “But for some reason or another I never managed to win a race, so maybe it is time to go back to Rio and win something and put that right.”


About David Lauterbach

David is a writer for The Comeback. He enjoyed two Men's Basketball Final Four trips for Syracuse before graduating in 2016. If The Office or Game of Thrones is on TV, David will be watching.