"I love you very much," she was saying. "I'm going to stay close to you no matter what. You've had a bad accident and have been in a coma for many days. But everything is O.K. now. In the accident you lost both legs, but I have been reading a lot, and someday you'll walk again and do a lot of things that you loved to do."
Zanardi listened quietly. "I love you," he said, "and the important thing is that I am alive. Don't worry. We'll find a way through this. Now let me go back to sleep. I'm tired."
Recalling those first moments of consciousness, Zanardi can't help himself. Smiling that old wry smile again, he says, "You know what Daniela should have said to me when I woke up? What she should have said was, 'I've got, ah...good news, and I've got ah...bad news....' "
Latka is back.
It is four months after the crash, a sunny day in January, and Alex Zanardi steps out the backdoor of an old building outside Bologna and makes his way slowly down a ramp and across a narrow road into a park. He is wearing a blue sweater and gray sweat shorts, which cover half of his titanium legs, and he is bracing himself with two green canes as he steps, very deliberately, onto a circle of grass. He is wearing a new pair of feet.
"You try on new shoes," he says. "I try on new feet."
He is being attended by his personal trainer, Claudio Panizzi, who walks next to him, at times holding out his arms lest Zanardi trip. "Step softly," Panizzi says in Italian. "Press lightly."
Zanardi leans forward on his canes, taking one step at a time. "Don't force it," Panizzi says. "You'll gain strength in time."
Zanardi strides even more deliberately—one-two, one-two, his steps steady on the winter grass—while Panizzi talks to him in cadence with the steps: "Perfetto! Esatto! Perfetto!"
These are the grounds of Italy's national center for the use of prostheses, and it is here, so near his childhood home, that Zanardi has come to learn how to walk again. He underwent 15 surgeries to cleanse his legs of all those tiny carbon-fiber splinters; indeed, when he came out of that induced coma, he felt like a bug splattered on a windshield. "I was in big pain," he says. "I'd had a lot of narcotics. There was a lag in my thinking. If I wanted to say hello to you, I'd have to look at you and think about it awhile before it would come. It was hard to talk, to get things connected."