I do not really go in for heroes. Maybe it is something to do with feet of clay, and maybe it is to do with comparing oneself unfavourably, but I tend to stay away from that kind of thing, all the more since I have grown older.
That is not to say that I do not have them – three, to be precise. The names of two will certainly not be published on this blog, lest I embarrass them (and myself), but the third, the one I most admire, is somebody about whom I have written before, and about whom I was sad to read some terrible news on Friday night.
It is hard to know where to begin with Alessandro Zanardi, let alone where to end, and while his serious accident just before the weekend in a handcycle race might finally prove one hurdle too many for this remarkable man, at the back of my mind I cannot help but think that he might just overcome even this trial. Given what I have read about the accident it is hard not to be pessimistic about his chances, but he is still alive, and that tends to be the only motivation that Zanardi needs.
I have written about him before, after his gold medal win in the 2012 Paralympics, and how he said that he might then retire (he did not – he went on to win two golds and a silver in Rio in 2016), and the man just goes on and on, an inspiration beyond inspirations since losing both his legs in an Indycar accident so shocking and violent that even many years later the BBC would only show it in a line-drawn virtual representation.
Alex survived that crash despite horrific injuries, as a result of which his heart stopped seven times and he was down to his last litre of blood, yet he survived, redesigned his prosthetic limbs to work more comfortably, returned to motor racing (and won!), and got on with an entirely new chapter of his life without ever looking back. He even refers to that day nearly twenty years ago as one of the luckiest of his life, for without it he would never have sought the opportunity to become a winner of multiple Olympic gold medals.
And that is the thing with Zanardi – he is resolutely and unremittingly optimistic and cheerful. The resilience of the man is staggering, his courage and strength beyond the ken of mere mortals. I have an old edition of his autobiography, from long before the paracycling, and have consistently put off buying a new version because I know that it would be out of date within a year, that his next achievement would merit yet another chapter. The world is far too short of heroes, so my fervent hope is that this one pulls through and that his autobiography continues to garner pages for many years to come.