Alex Zanardi won the Handcycle category of the New York City Marathon at the weekend and fellow Indy car driver Paul Tracy credits Canada’s "Man in Motion," Rick Hansen, for providing the inspiration for Zanardi and other handicapped people to reach for the stars.
Ten years after losing his legs in a crash during a CART race at the Lausitzring Speedway in Germany, the 45-year-old Zanardi won the Marathon's Handcycle race (a hand-operated, three-wheel cycle) by two seconds over Rafal Wilk of Poland.
Zanardi’s time of one hour, 13 minutes and 58 seconds was enough to defeat Wilk and the 91 other entrants in the class.
Zanardi said afterward that his mission this season is to score enough points to be invited to represent Italy at the Paralympic Games in London next year. The ex-Formula One driver and two-time CART champion (1997 and ‘98) raced for BMW in the World Touring Car Championship from 2005 to 2009 and won four races. He’s given up car racing, however, to concentrate on paracycling during the runup to the Olympic year.
Tracy, who was in Toronto at the weekend to participate in Hansen’s 25th anniversary Man in Motion tour on behalf of Honda Canada, one of the event's sponsors, said if it hadn’t been for him, people like Zanardi might not have realized their potential.
"Rick laid the groundwork for people in wheelchairs to realize it’s not the end of the world," Tracy said. "Here was a guy who went all across Canada and around the world in his wheelchair and he did things that I haven’t done in my life. He’s a great inspiration.
"And Zanardi is a perfect example. He was injured racing and he lost both his legs. But he said to himself, ‘I’m not going to sit in this chair and do nothing for the rest of my life.’ And look at him! He's gone on to compete in marathons in a racing chair and even come back to auto racing – and he’s won in both!"
Hansen is marking the 25th anniversary of his astounding accomplishment (he wheeled 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries over 26 months) with a relay that started in Newfoundland in August and is expected to finish in Vancouver in May, 2012.
The Rick Hansen Medal, struck by the Royal Canadian Mint, is being passed from volunteer to volunteer along the way and 7,000 people in 600 communities will have participated when the relay ends.
Hansen and relay volunteers will travel today (Tuesday, Nov. 8) from Toronto to Mississauga.
Canadian racing legend Paul Tracy (left) joins Rick Hansen, Ronald McDonald and President of McDonald's Canada, John Betts, in front of the Honda Civic Si Tracy drove for his leg of the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay at the weekend.