By Tom Degun

December 18 - Alex Zanardi (picture), the inspirational motor-racing driver who lost both his legs in a horrific Champ Car crash at the Lausitzring in Germany in 2001, admits that participating at the London 2012 Paralympics is "purely a dream" for him at this stage.

Following his terrifying accident, the Italian has rebuilt his life – even helping in the design of his own prosthetic legs - and remarkably took up motor-racing again in 2003.

He has competed in the European and then World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in each season ever since.

Zanardi said: "I am less vulnerable than before the accident because I cannot break my legs or if I do, it only takes a four millimetre screw to fix."

Zanardi, 43, has also taken up the sport of hand-cycling where the cycles are propelled by athletes using their upper body rather than their legs.

The former Formula One driver has proved successful in the discipline having finished in an impressive 15th place in the Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Italy in September and winning the hand-cycling section of the Venice Marathon in October.

Although he says it will be difficult, Zanardi is aiming for a place on the Italian cycling team at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

Zanardi said: "This is more of a dream in the sense that [for me to compete at London 2012 right now] it would be like someone testing a Formula One car and saying, 'I like this, I want to do more racing so I’m going to race at the Formula One Silverstone Grand Prix this weekend.'

"It doesn’t work this way so there are plenty of steps from where I am now and London 2012.

"Nevertheless, the start I have made is the right one to eventually end up there.

"But whether I get there is purely a dream right now.

"It's a very competitive sport and I’m going to do a lot more races at a local level which will all serve for my training and maybe one day, I will be good enough to be selected to go to the Paralympic Games."

But Zanardi (pictured) said he is enjoying the challenge that hand-cycling provides and gains a great deal from participating in the sport.

He said: "Even though it is a sport born for Para-Athletes, in some countries, normal athletes race in hand-cycle races because it is a great sport for training the upper body without spending hours in the gym.

"You can go very fast and actually, our racing produces speeds of around 40 kilometres per hour over a 50 or 60km course.

"What I like about this sport is the opposite to motor-racing where what happens is much more related to luck or how competitive the car is.

"With hand-bikes, it’s more a case of putting one brick on top of another and eventually the wall will come up.

"If you train hard and work hard, eventually you will gain results and that is the real spirit of life: you don’t get anything without work.

"For somebody like me who has always been competitive his entire life and enjoyed to pick up challenges, it's fantastic and gives me a great sense of freedom and makes me feel well."

Zanardi acknowledges that is incredibly lucky to be alive after the 2001 crash, which happened when he spun into the path of Canadian Alex Tagliani, cutting his car in half and sliced off both legs above the knee.

Zanardi lost a massive amount of blood and was only saved by the rapid arrival of medical teams at the scene.

He said: "Scientifically, there are no reasons why I should still be alive.

"It was a unique case that was studied by doctors because to the books of human knowledge, it was impossible for a person like me to survive in the circumstances.

"Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the outcome.

"Of course it would have been better to never have had an accident at all, but life goes on and I was not only able to survive, but to rebuild my life.

"The question I asked when I woke up [from a week-long medically induced coma] was not how am I going to live without legs - but how am I going to do all the things I want to do without legs?

"There was no doubt that I was going to do them, I was just curious to find out how - but I knew I was going to find a way.

"It has been a splendid adventure because I guess human beings without some kind of challenge - they don't live well.

"Whenever I have a drive or have a dream, I try to achieve it with what I have."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected].

Related stories
November 2009:
 New UCI para-cycling World Cup circuit set to feature Zanardi
October 2009: Zanardi takes another step towards London 2012 with victory in Venice
September 2009: Former F1 driver Zanardi targets London Paralympic Games