Pope Francis sent a letter to Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi for “giving strength to those who had lost it” following a serious cycling accident he was involved in last week.
The pope offered a special prayer for the former auto racing champion who remains in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator after he crashed his handbike into a truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a relay race Friday.
“Your story is an example of how to start again after a sudden halt,” the letter read, according to Vatican News. “Through sport you have demonstrated how to live life as protagonists, making disability a lesson in humanity. Thank you for giving strength to those who had lost it. In this painful moment I am close to you, I pray for you and your family. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you”.
The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART in the United States and had two stints in Formula One. He crashed during a CART event in Germany in 2001, and both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.
Doctors say he suffered serious facial and cranial trauma and have warned of possible brain damage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.