True sports show life is a privilege

Carolyn Aldis
Carolyn Aldis
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So, this week I have been struck by a couple of things that happened during the Paralympics. I don’t have much interest in sport but the thing that caught my attention this week was hearing the name Alex Zanardi again…I remember being at home on a Sunday afternoon many years ago, my daughter asleep in her cot, having had a lovely roast dinner.

I have a habit of reading the Sunday magazine and, that week, there was an article about this remarkable man, a Formula One driver who had been involved in an horrendous crash that had almost killed him…it went into graphic detail of how his legs had been severed as his car was sliced in two, leading to blood loss that would usually end in death…but then this was Alex Zanardi they were talking about and I could see what a determined, optimistic man he was, even then.

When my daughter woke from her nap, my head was still full of Alex’s story and as she toddled off down the stairs, I marvelled at how he had managed to learn to walk again, even though he was in excruciating pain; his determination fascinated me.

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t thought much about him since…I do this a lot, read about amazing people and think “Wow, they have been through so much, I’ll never moan again!” and then something will come up and I’ll be sobbing “Why me!” and forgetting all about these incredible stories of people who overcome adversity.

When I heard that he had won gold at Rio, I felt compelled to look him up. I was astounded to learn that he had been back in a Formula One car, even driven on the same circuit where his life had been forever changed…most people would never want to revisit the site of such a traumatic event.

To train as he has, to become a world class hand cyclist must have taken immense effort, courage and willpower, but for me, the most amazing thing about him is his humility. I would have thought somebody who has achieved all that he has, would be proud and rightly so.

Yet his response to his Paralympic win was so humble: “Normally I don’t thank God for this type of thing as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about but today is too much. I had to raise my eyes and thank Him. I feel very lucky; I feel my life is a never-ending privilege.”

Such humility is unusual to see and so it was refreshing to see it again just days later as Alistair Brownlee helped his brother Jonny, who was struggling to keep going, to come second in the Triathlon, by supporting him as they ran together for the finish line. He said it seemed the most natural thing to do and he would have done it for anybody.

Some things are far more important than winning.

In the words of Alex Zanardi, life is a never-ending privilege and seeing others respond to difficulties with grace, strength and humanity inspires me to want to do the same.