Alex Zanardi is in serious condition after being involved in a collision while handbiking in Italy on Friday. He was eventually airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he underwent a three-hour neurosurgery to treat major head injuries before being moved into the intensive care unit.
According to police reports, Zanardi was competing in a Paralympic race in Pienza (near Tuscany) when he lost control of his handbike on a downhill incline, sending him into the oncoming lane and in front of a truck. The truck attempted to avoid him but was unable to. When police arrived on the scene, the handbike was missing all but one of its wheels, while Zanardi was awake at the time.
He was later airlifted to Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital for surgery. According to the hospital, he suffered “severe cranial trauma” in the impact, forcing him to undergo “a delicate neurosurgery operation.”
“You never gave up and with your extraordinary strength of mind, you have overcome a thousand difficulties,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte posted on Twitter. “Come on Alex #Zanardi, do not give up. All of Italy struggles with you.”
Zanardi, a two-time CART champion, has been regarded as one of the greatest and most inspirational stories in sports history. The multi-discipline auto racer transitioned into handbiking after losing his legs in a massive wreck during a 2001 CART race in Germany. After recovering, he became a multi-time medalist in the Paralympic Games, including winning two golds at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
The Italian would also make his return to auto racing in sports and touring cars, racing in the World Touring Car Championship, DTM, and the 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. His DTM and Rolex 24 starts have come without needing his prosthetic legs. Earlier in the day, Zanardi had announced his plans to race in the Italian GT Championship at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in November.
The racing world gave its support to Zanardi in the wake of the accident.
“I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I’m holding my breath,” Mario Andretti tweeted. “I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I’m doing and pray pray for for this wonderful man.”
Chip Ganassi, who owned Zanardi’s CART team, urged his Twitter followers to “please pray for my friend Alex Zanardi.”