«After becoming part of the Albo d’oro of the City of Perugia, I want the grifo symbol of Perugia, to accompany me in my climbing. I want to bring the spirit of Perugia through Italy and beyond».
With these words Luca Panichi, born in Magione 49 years ago, he proudly explains the importance of the recognition received. He is a sportsman, a cyclist, a climber. A person who has never surrendered, not only after the incident in 1994 when he was 25 years old: he was doing what he loved most, the time trial of the International Amateur Tour of Umbria, when a car ran over him. Today with his wheelchair – tailor – made for him – he climbs mountains and he brings around Italy the message that the limits can be overcome. He presides over associations and is the vice president of the Paralympic Committee of Umbria. But above all he managed not to abandon his passion: cycling. Passion that is perceived chatting with him, so much that he asks me: «Do you have a passion for cycling?» I admit that I do not know much about it, but that I prepared to interview him. The first question is almost obvious…
How did you think of climbing the mountains with the wheelchair?
Good question! Immediately after the accident I went to a rehabilitation clinic in Germany, where I used to go up to the near village – which was on the hillside of the clinic – pushing the wheelchair with my arms. In this way I realized that I could continue to be a cyclist even if sitting in a wheelchair. When I lived in Florence, I went around the whole city and I went back to Careggi without ever taking a vehicle. The same situation in Perugia: I attended the university and never parked in the reserved places, I used to park the car in via Ruggero D’Andreotto – near the Giò hotel – and I reached the Headquarters of University. I have trained a lot until it has become a sport for me.
What was your first climb?
In 2009 I climbed the rise of the Blockouse in Abruzzo, arrival of one of the stages in the Giro d’Italia: few meters from the arrival I was intercepted by Cassani and Bulbarelli, who made live the chronicle of the last meters. From this episode, every year, I organize a cycling stage with the arrival to climb. In this way I can continue to live my passion, cycling and bring my message: «Breaking the sense of limit».
Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Zoncolan, Stelvio and Gavia: there is a mountain that you would like to climb, but that you have not climbed yet?
La Marmolada and Passo del Mortirolo, but also the Colle di Portet-d’Aspet, which is a stage of the Tour de France. At that place, Fabio Casartelli died in 1995, just a year after my accident. I am very close to the Casartelli Foundation and every year I participate in the Grand Prix of Capodarco, a community that has helped me in my rehabilitation process, delivering the prize to the most combative athlete of the day.
What is your feeling?
I still feel like a cyclist when I climb up the hills. For me there was not a rift, it is a continuity of my previous sport.
What do you think when you are there and things get hard?
When I train I often say: “But who made me do it!” But then I think of the people who follow me, they are always an incitement. Honestly, for me it would be a sacrifice not to do what I do. It is a true passion!
In August I will take part in the Grand Prix of Capodarco, then in October I will try again the climbing of the Zoncolan, but in different climatic conditions compared to the first time.
Let’s talk about Umbria: what is your link with this region?
I am really in love with this region. Thanks to the bicycle I have known many villages and experienced many landscapes. It is wonderful to know other communities and discover places that you might not never visit. There is a bucolic environment that blends with the story, so as the characters who lived here. I think not only to St. Francis, but also to Fra Giovanni from Pian del Carpine, who was born in Magione just like me, a forerunner in the field of travels and Marco Polo too. Few people know them.
Walking around Perugia or Umbria – for a disabled person – is not like climbing a mountain?
Definitely. The Umbrian villages have their own configuration, but over time, some improvements have been done, in order to make these towns more accessible, such as Perugia itself. However, there is still a lot to do. The disabled people should maketheir own contribution, explaining what has to be improved.
Why is it so difficult, in your opinion, to make everything accessible?
It is a cultural problem, but I think that a more balanced approach is necessary: the obstacles must be removed but the disabled people should help to improve the situation. The public institutions should be involved too, and, above all, the general attitude should be changed thorough dedicated projects, starting from the world of Education.
How would you describe Umbria in three words?
Romantic, charming and peaceful.
The first thing that comes to your mind thinking of this region…