He since went on to win two gold medals for Italy at the 2012 London Paralympics in handcycling.
Now, he's moving onto another challenge: The Ironman triathlon.
On the weekend, Zanardi completed his first Ironman — using only his arms — in Hawaii. He used a wet vest for the swim, a handcycle for the biking portion and an Olympic wheelchair for the run.
"The last 300 metres were worth everything, they were worth being here for," Zanardi said. "I don't know if everybody got cheered the same way, but when I passed down that narrow lane, I have never experienced anything like that.
“It was amazing. I was always close to crying. I am not an emotional guy for these types of things, but this was very special."