Alex Zanardi returns home with 'fighting spirit' after 18 months in hospital

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Alex Zanardi will continue his rehabilitation from a handcycle collision at home, after 18 months in hospital

Alex Zanardi finishes Ironman Barcelona on his handcycle in 2017

Zanardi completes an Ironman race on his handcycle in 2017

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

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.”

Alex Zanardi

Zanardi won two ChampCar titles before his 2001 crash

Getty Images

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.

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“Different programmes Alex did in hospital are continued at home now. In regards of his physical condition, there is a lot of progress. Alex has more and more strength in the arms, that has increased a lot. And, other than in hospital where he was in bed a lot, Alex now spends most of the day in the wheel chair with us. He just rests a bit in the afternoon after lunch.

“You still can’t predict how his recovery will further develop. It is still a long and challenging way that Alex tackles with a lot of fighting spirit.

“It is a big help for him and us that we receive so much support on this way,” said Daniela who praised the doctors and therapists treating Zanardi, as well as assistance from BMW. “We are very grateful to everyone for that and for so much more because these strong ties give us additional energy.

“This also goes for the continued sympathy we receive from racing drivers, fans and acquaintances from all over the world. We would like to express a big Grazie to all who send their good thoughts and power to Alex.

“We are very grateful to see how many people all over the world have Alex in their thoughts. This great sympathy shows how much Alex’s recovery touches the people.”