Pope Francis on Wednesday wrote a letter in support of Alex Zanardi, the former Formula One driver and Paralympic champion who is battling for his life after a serious handbike road accident.
“Dearest Alessandro, your story is an example of how we can start again after a sudden stop; through sport you taught how to live life as a protagonist, making disability a lesson of humanity.
“Thank you for giving strength to those who had lost it. I am close to you in this very painful moment, I am praying for you and your family,’’ Francis also said.
The short letter, dated Tuesday, was published by Wednesday’s sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Francis wrote it encouraged by Father Marco Pozza, a priest and friend of both the pontiff and Zanardi.
Pozza, who saw the pope at his Vatican residence on Tuesday, is an amateur sportsman who ran several marathons with Zanardi, including the New York one.
Zanardi, 53, suffered major head injuries on Friday after crashing against an oncoming truck during a handbike relay event on the road between the Tuscan villages of Pienza and San Quirico.
He is in an induced coma, incubated and supported by artificial ventilation, though doctors have described his condition as stable but serious.
Zanardi had another major accident in 2001, when he lost both legs in a car race crash, after that he switched to paracycling, winning four gold and two silver medals at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.