The Fantastic Mr. Zanardi

What separates the great teams from the rest of the pack? Why are certain people able to make the best out of whatever situation they’re given? What enables an individual to keep pushing, again and again again?

I’m fascinated by all of these questions, and so I have a deep and abiding interest in the life and teams of Alex Zanardi. He’s one of a handful of people I am willing to call a hero. I’ve written about his exploits so many times here on the pages of metacool that I had to do a Google search to uncover them all. (I’ve included a list of hyperlinks below the body of this post)

But back to those questions. What is it about Alex Zanardi that allows him to do the amazing things that he does? I recently viewed this video about the most recent year in Zanardi’s life, and for those of you love racing of all kinds—bikes, cars, swimming—I heartily recommend watching the entire thing. It’s incredibly inspiring. It blew my mind.

WARNING: you will need something to wipe the tears away as you watch this:

For those you who don’t have the time to see it all right now, please index the video to the 3:18 mark. By doing so you will play a brief, but truly remarkable and insightful interview with the great Dario Franchitti, Zanardi’s friend and competitor. No stranger to the art of digging deeper than you thought you ever could, fellow racer Franchitti tells a remarkable story about Zanardi.

To the point of the questions I posed above, here’s a key insight from Franchitti’s interview, one that provides a keen insight into the inner workings of Zanardi’s character:

…he [Zanardi] never knew when he was beaten. You might have thought you had him beaten, but it didn’t register for him. As long as there was laps left in the race there was still a fighting chance. And it helped him when had his accident and what he had to deal with. That mindset helped him.

In racing, people who have this mindset are called “racers”. Not everyone who races is a racer. But those who are end up winning more than everyone else, because they know when not to give up. In life I don’t think it is wise to always persevere in everything that you do, because that would be exhausting. You don’t always have to stand in line to get the best seat at the movie theater, for example. But for those select few things that matter most to you, the ability to tell yourself after all said and done that you gave it your all, that’s worth everything.

Remarkable teams can do that. Remarkable people can do that, too. And I think it’s a life skill that can be learned—pushing through challenges, whether they be physical, emotional, intellectual—all of those build up your ability to do this. We can all be racers, or whatever your crowd calls those who set the standard.

To me, that’s the lesson of Alex Zanardi. That’s why I call him the Fantastic Mr. Zanardi. He’s fantastic in two ways. First, fantastic, as in hard to believe someone like him can exist—how did that ever come to be? And fantastic in the way he sets the standard for commitment and the excellence that inevitably flows from it.

Thank you, Alex.


More Zanardi inspiration on metacool: