With the recent passing of Stan Lee, the legendary Marvel comic book writer and creator of many of our childhood superheroes, I got to thinking about what the word ‘hero’ really means. Sadly, one of the first things I realised was that it’s become rather over- and ill-used of late, somewhat diluting its strength and stature. I mean, let’s be honest here, does a guy who gets paid £200,000 a week for playing football and whose biggest daily dilemma is whether to drive his blue or red Ferrari, really warrant the title of ‘hero’?
For me personally a hero is someone who inspires. A person who overcomes the odds to triumph and show others they can do the same.
Over the past few months I’ve had the extreme privilege and honour of working with people that I feel well and truly qualify for the above criteria. Somewhat against the odds itself, from a tiny spark of an idea earlier this year I had the great fortune and pleasure of putting together a “Disability in Motorsport” supplement for and with Autosport magazine. As a disabled petrolhead myself you can understand it’s a subject I’m very passionate about, both personally and professionally.
“Inspiring” is another much over-used word today, but I can honestly, hand on heart, say there is no other word to cover the very ethos this project had. Featuring people such as Billy Monger and Nathalie McGloin, who are fast becoming much-needed ambassadors and figureheads for disabled motorsport, to the lesser known drivers, team owners, marshals and photographers overcoming the seemingly insurmountable to succeed. I was beyond proud to be championing people who don’t necessarily want the title, but whom, to me, fit the profile of a hero perfectly.
I must confess though, there was one person in particular who truly wore the ‘superhero’ cape for me. Three years ago, through my partner and a very dear friend, former Indycar champion and double Paralympic gold medal winner Alex Zanardi sent me a wonderfully personal card and message. The words he wrote saw me through a very difficult journey, and still inspire me every day. In a roundabout way they played a large part in giving me the courage to even propose let alone deliver the “Disability in Motorsport” project.
During the process of researching and writing about the history of disabled motorsport, I was given the overwhelming opportunity to speak to Zanardi. I was a nervous wreck beforehand but being able to thank him for all he’s done for disabled sport was an incredible honour; being able to thank him personally for the words that so empowered me, even more so. That my great hero then went on to thank me for doing the supplement, left me speechless, stunned and humbled in equal measure.
That brief chat with Alex Zanardi will stay with – and continue to inspire – me for a lifetime, just like any good superhero should. Because it’s fair to say, not all heroes wear capes, some wear prosthetics instead.