Hercules Doesn’t Even Compare
Every once in a while, you hear of a real feel-good story. Whether it be a good samaritan helping a stranger, a young lad or lass going above-and-beyond, or just an outright hero, putting their life before others. It reaffirms faith in humanity, it makes us feel better about humankind. And then, often associated with sport, you hear of the inspirational stories, the ones that make you gasp for air, that shock you, that make you wonder if the human body can actually do what is being asked of it.
This past week I’ve been reminded of one such occasion, which itself reminded me of a previous. And then in the past couple of days, news of a third filtered through.
Earlier this week, the BBC broadcast a documentary, following the aftermath and recovery of a young racing driver who suffered a life-changing accident at the hands of a Formula 4 car. Billy Monger was an aspiring young racer, the sort of cheeky chappy that is akin to the early recordings of Lewis Hamilton.
He was just seventeen when he had an accident at the wheel of his racing car. An accident so unfortunate, but in the same breath so horrific and violent it amazes to even understand how the young man survived.
But watching his behaviour, seeing his attitude and listening to his self-belief, one can only utter the following statement: Billy Monger is still an aspiring young racer.
Seeing his story being broadcast in front of me, I could only compare to Alessandro Zanardi as I listened to the whipper-snapper declare his intent to race again, just weeks after undergoing surgery to remove both his legs.
To watch him climb into a Formula 3 car and take to a rain-soaked Oulton Park circuit was frankly unbelievable. But to do that with the kind of apparent nonchalance that he has, it was surreal. It just seemed normal to him, while everyone else looked on in disbelief.
Third place in the opening race of the season. Third!
Watching Billy’s story reminded me of a driver at the other end of their career. Alex Zanardi is someone I’ve written about before, his herculean effort to move past his life-changing injuries and to simply get on with it. It is something I don’t think many of us could do.
Following his amputations, Zanardi returned to drive his single-seater, although not competitively. He tested a Formula One machine as well, and enjoyed some touring car success. But ultimately, Zanardi found solace as an Olympian, using a hand-bike to power himself around circuits against others.
It was always his smile that pressed through though. His self-belief and refusal to look at his life in any other way than… blessed. His attitude towards life has and continues to inspire.
And so to the news that Robert Kubica, one of only a few drivers to genuinely impress me while watching, is to make the comeback of all comebacks to Formula One next year.
I remember sitting in a cafe at Heathrow Airport reading about his injuries the day after his rally accident. I remember thinking that motorsport has been robbed of a great talent, but also thankful that he (at that early stage) was at least alive.
The severity of his injuries are still plain to see, one writer explaining that Kubica cannot grip the steering wheel in a normal fashion. But of course, these people, these weird and seemingly super human people, they find ways around these issues. They don’t let things stand in their way.
Zanardi was perhaps getting a bit old to continue driving anyway. He took a bet and entered a marathon. It went from there.
Monger, it seems, is perhaps unaware he doesn’t have any legs. The way he speaks and handles himself, he just does what he wants, and that appears to be racing single seaters.
And Kubica, well… Hercules doesn’t even compare. Not to any of this trio.
One thought I did have about this is that Formula One could well have a disabled world champion before a female world champion. I didn’t add that remark though as I haven’t read Kubica describe his injuries as a disability. And to place that upon someone is somewhat rude. Also, let’s not get too carried away, it is a Williams he’ll be driving next year. And being the second-oldest driver on the grid, I doubt time is on his side. Never say never, but Monger is probably a better bet.