Alex Zanardi has left hospital and returned home for the first time since a handcycle accident in June 2020 left him in a medically-induced coma with serious neurological injuries.
The double Champ Car champion turned Paralympic athlete has been recovering ever since, spending more than a year at a rehabilitation facility, working on brain, body and voice exercises.
With “steady progress”, he is now continuing his recovery at home, but his wife, Daniela warned that he faces further challenges.
In an update to mark his return home, she said: “Alex proves again and again that he is a real fighter.
“He is in his familiar environment and thus could return a little bit to normality. This gives him additional power.”
Zanardi won two ChampCar titles before his 2001 crash
The 55-year-old is recovering from life-threatening injuries for a second time after losing both legs in a 2001 ChampCar crash in Lausitz, Germany, 13 laps before the end of the race.
Twenty months later he returned to the circuit to complete those 13 laps then went on to race in the European Touring Car Championship with BMW, as well as winning gold medals at the London and Rio Paralympics in handcycling.
Zanardi was aiming to compete in the Tokyo Games when he suffered facial and head injuries in a collision with a lorry during an Italian handcycling road race.
He was airlifted to hospital in a serious condition with a “severe head injury”, and went into surgery within an hour of arriving. He spent a month in a medically-induced coma and lost his ability to speak.
In July 2020 he was moved to a rehabilitation centre where he remained until returning home to continue his recovery.
“The recovery continues to be a long process,” said Daniela in a statement published by BMW. “The rehabilitation programme led by doctors, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists and speech therapists has enabled steady progress.
“Of course, setbacks are there and can still occur. Sometimes you also have to make two steps back in order to make one step forward.
“An important step was that Alex was able to leave hospital a few weeks ago and is back at home with us now. We had to wait very long for this and are very happy that it was possible now, even if there are still temporary stays in special clinics planned for the future to carry out special rehabilitation measures on site.”
Zanardi won time-trial gold at Brands Hatch in the 2012 Paralympics
Alex’s severe injuries and Covid restrictions have meant that he had not been able to see friends in hospital, with only one visitor per day allowed, Daniela said.
“Alex had only people with face masks and in protective equipment around him for one and a half years.
“All this did not help to make the situation easier. Therefore it helps that he is now at home with us.