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Inspired By a Legend, Alex Zanardi: Racecar Driver, Paralympian, Hero



Those of you who follow our ULU blogs know that Mondays are reserved for PR and content extraordinaire, Anthony Peacock. And those of you who are familiar with our ULU team will also know that both Anthony and Paul (ULU founder) are big names in the Motorsport world. So, in addition to research around CBD you’ll always see plenty of racing content here at ULU. This week, Anthony writes about his interview with Alex Zanardi, professional racing driver, Paralympian paracyclist and all-round inspiration.



Have you heard of Alex Zanardi? He’s a charismatic Italian racing driver whose life was torn apart on a race track in Germany in 2001, when he was involved in a terrifying accident that ripped his legs off. He faced a long and hard rehabilitation, but came back not only to race again, but to claim a gold medal at the London Paralympics in hand cycling.

What’s remarkable about Zanardi is that he looks back at his ordeal without any bitterness. In fact, he says that in many ways it was one of the best things that ever happened to him, as it taught him how to appreciate what was really important in life. And his humour was one thing that emerged firmly intact from the whole episode. I interviewed him a while ago and it was one of those embarrassing situations where there was only one chair. Of course, I insisted that he had it. “But I don’t need it,” said Zanardi. “I’ve not got any legs…”

With sport – including motorsport – now returning to our screens, Alex Zanardi is perfectly placed to deliver a unique perspective about what makes a champion. To share some wisdom on the mindset of success.


“Ambition and talent alone aren’t enough to make a champion”

“The one single most important thing you need to win is a real passion for what you do,” said Zanardi. “I remember listening to interviews with Ayrton Senna, and he spoke a lot about the commitment and training that you need to succeed. But that made me laugh a bit because I knew that deep down, he absolutely loved what he was doing and that he considered himself extremely lucky to be doing it, as I did myself. Ambition and talent alone aren’t enough to make a champion, in my view. What you need most to succeed is to first of all really enjoy what you are doing.”

There’s a lesson in there for all of us, and it doesn’t only apply to cars. It applies to bikes, other sports, every task that we apply ourselves to. Even our everyday jobs. It’s hard to be successful at something that you don’t enjoy doing.


“The pleasure of doing the job”

“Crossing the finish line at Brands Hatch to claim my Olympic gold medal in paracycling was a special moment, but if I hadn’t as felt as much joy in every kilometre of training as I had in that single moment, then I don’t think I would have achieved anything,” added Zanardi. “It was important for me to know that I had chosen something where I would look forward to doing my job every day, rather than just seeing the results at the end of it. That’s really what I mean by ambition alone not being enough. I’m proud of my gold medal, but it’s already just a picture to hang on the wall. The actual pleasure of doing the job rather than the souvenir of having done it well is what counts.”

All too often, we concentrate on the destination rather than the journey. The rewards gained from having arrived, rather than the hard work to get there. And what Zanardi teaches you is not exactly how to overcome adversity – he doesn’t really think about that, he says – but how to enjoy the process of doing so.


“pressure and the weight of expectation”

This year, the favourite to win the Formula 1 championship (for the seventh time) is Lewis Hamilton: another inspirational figure for so many people, who is often considered to be the greatest driver of all time. Not just that, but he is also a personality beyond motorsport who takes a strong stand on social issues, such as the unrest in the United States and the rest of the world following the death of George Floyd.

Zanardi remembers speaking to Hamilton many years ago and asking him if he’d rather be at the start of a race, having qualified in, say, fifth position with it all to do but the means to do it, or crossing the finish line with the slowing-down lap and the podium to look forward to.

“Are you kidding me?” answered Hamilton. “The first one, obviously.” And that’s exactly how Zanardi has always felt too. We all feel pressure and the weight of expectation on our shoulders, especially if we’ve been accustomed to success. Work is often one of the areas where we see this most often, especially in today’s ultra-competitive corporate environment. But look at it this way, thanks to some insight from Alex Zanardi. Imagine what it feels to be him, or Lewis Hamilton.


“You know you’re good enough”

“When you line up on the grid for the first race at the start of the season with the number one on your car and everyone calling you the favourite, there’s a certain degree of pressure for sure,” Zanardi concluded. “I remember the feeling well and here’s what you need to remember. You’re in that situation for a reason: it’s a brand new beginning and you’re ready to play. You know you’re good enough. How could you not feel happy? That’s what I think makes a champion.”

The sportsmen and women returning to action now after many months off would do well to bear these words of wisdom in mind. But not only them. As we come back to work, we can all learn something from Alex Zanardi. If you feel pressure to deliver, it’s just because people believe you can do it – and not only do it; but do it well. To accomplish your goal successfully, the only thing that you really need is to enjoy the process of getting there.


For more of Anthony’s content, why not check out some of his recent articles below?

Roll Over Beethoven: Classical Music and Mental Health According to Stephen Fry

Anthony Peacock: Back to School

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