ROME — Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi was seriously injured again in a handbike crash Friday, nearly 19 years after losing both of his legs in a horrific auto racing accident.
Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following an incident near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press.
A medical bulletin from the hospital said Zanardi underwent “a delicate neurosurgery operation.” His condition was “very serious” due to “severe cranial trauma.” The surgery took three hours, and Zanardi was transferred to intensive care by late Friday night.
“You’ve never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you’ve overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted. “Don’t give up. All of Italy is with you.”
A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle.” The official did not give his name as per local custom.
Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi’s handbike lying on its side and missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semitrailer appeared parked on the road ahead.
“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told La Repubblica Florence. “Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid the crash.”
Repubblica said Zanardi, 53, remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and that he was breathing by himself.
“Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived. It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident he was talking,” Valentini added in another interview with local media.
Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward.
“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino,” Valentini said. “The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake.”
The coach added Zanardi’s helmet came off during the crash.
I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I'm holding my breath. I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I'm doing and pray pray for for this wonderful man. https://t.co/P8XPVymmKg
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) June 19, 2020
Zanardi had both of his legs amputated following a horrific crash during a 2001 CART race in Germany.
Having recently returned to the series from a second stint in Formula One, Zanardi had plowed through the field to lead laps for the first time in three years. The crash occurred when Zanardi spun his car after a pit stop, and he was hit by another driver. Both legs were severed at impact.
Zanardi was a two-time CART champion in 1997-98 with Chip Ganassi Racing.
— Juan Pablo Montoya (@jpmontoya) June 19, 2020
He returned to racing cars with hand controls after losing his legs, competing in the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona with BMW. Zanardi had been announced earlier Friday as being slated to race for BMW in the Italian GT Championship at Monza in November, according to SportsCar365.com.
Zanardi won four gold medals in handbike at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.
The Italian Olympic and Paralympic Committees had no immediate comment.
My thoughts are with Alex Zanardi tonight. He has defied the odds his whole life, always done the seemingly impossible. When we raced against each other I realised there was never a point in any race that in his mind he was beaten.
I’m praying for another Zanardi miracle 💪🏼💔
— Dario Franchitti (@dariofranchitti) June 19, 2020