Emiliano Malagoli: Don’t call me “Hero”

Published: 03 December 2022

Interview with Emiliano Malagoli, the founder of Di.Di Diversamente Disabili

Emiliano Malagoli never stands still: he suffers from an acute form of presbyopia that shows him only the most distant objectives. The real problem? Always find new ones to achieve. Born in Lucca, at 36 years Emi had already lived a couple of different lives, including one in Livorno as a parachutist and one on the tracks of the Trofeo Italiano Amatori (Italian Amateur Trophy) in 2008. And let’s face it: family and motorcycle were the constant elements that were present before and after that accident with the Ducati Hypermotard 1100 that, at 36 years of age, cost him the amputation of a leg. 

However, 36 is actually not the number that marked his life; it is 39 instead, a recurring number that in a sense is a dedication of love for his two daughters. Why not use it as a race number then? Yes, because, since the accident, Emiliano and his partner Chiara Valentini have done nothing but open new roads where they were not there. Founding Di.Di. Differently Disabled, an Italian association that takes care of bringing (or bringing back) disabled people on a motorcycle, allowing them to obtain AS Licenses. Creating a championship on the track marking the step for an Italian Paralympic motorcycle first with the Octo Bridgestone Cup, and then an international one with the International Bridgestone Handy Race. Thanks to Di.Di.’s efforts, 2021 also saw the official FIM recognition that marks the first Paralympic motorcycle championship, the European Bridgestone Iron Cup.

Your life seems to be marked by moments on your motorcycle. Which do you consider the three most important?

Undoubtedly, the first coincides with the day on which I returned to compete riding my motorcycle after the accident. I gave myself a year, but already when I was in the hospital I had this fixation. Hard rehabilitation, endless bureaucracy. Returning to Mugello was the first great goal of my life, or rather the first goal that I can say was mine only. The second important moment was when we managed to bring the International Bridgestone Handy Race to Le Mans, in conjunction with the MotoGp race in 2017. Can you imagine all that crowd in front of us who expected to see Rossi race, but who finds itself cheer for us? The third one is not a precise moment, but a milestone. When I was able to help the first people with disabilities get back on the motorbike. Making others happy to make yourself happy is the most selfless form of selfishness I have been able to find. 

Emiliano, what is disability to you?

Disability is the photograph of a condition, while handicap is the possibility or not to do certain things. To improve the life of a disabled person, all you have to do is reduce the handicaps. Setting an example of possibility: this is what Chiara and I tried to do by founding the Di.Di. Diversamente Disabili association. Before Di.Di., a disabled person who wanted to get back riding a motorbike had to face everything on their own, including buying the bike and modifying it even before knowing whether it was suitable for them or not. We have broken down some economic barriers, even though we are aware that the real challenge is to put people back on the saddle of everyday life, to restore self-esteem. Emotional disability is more impacting than physical disability. One thing I’ve learned is that smiling gives happiness. We should all learn to smile a little more.

You’re talking about setting an example of a possibility. What were your examples instead?

I’ve always admired Kevin Schwantz. He won the 500 class world championship with Suzuki in 1993. He was called “kamikaze pilot”, he was exuberant and crazy. He was a show-off. How can you not love him? Another example is Alex Zanardi, who has always been a source of inspiration due to his willpower. Finally, I cannot fail to mention the great Alan Kempster, an Australian pilot whom I had the opportunity to meet in person. He drove his motorbike without a leg and arm from the left side. He was the living proof that on a motorbike, we are all the same.

Let’s talk about AS Licence. How does it work?

The special licence is the certificate of suitability issued, following an examination by a specific Local Medical Commission, to people suffering from anatomical, functional or sensory impairments, for driving vehicles modified according to their pathologies (or vehicles that in any case have construction characteristics that make a specific adaptation necessary). To take the exam, it is necessary to show up with the adapted motorbike, but no Italian driving school invests to buy it. Our association provides adapted bikes for exercises and examinations, supporting those interested in all the bureaucratic and practical phases of this process that lasts about 4 months in total, including the initial examination. Thanks to our partners, we are able to guarantee affordable prices. 

Motorcycle for the disabled: what are the main changes and how much do they cost?

The most frequent adaptations in motorcycles for the disabled are the movement to the left of the accelerator, brake and clutch if the right arm is missing, the movement of the shift controls on the handlebars in the case of a missing left leg and the movement of the rear brake on the handlebars. Motorcycles for the disabled on the road must be approved and re-registered, while on the track it is essentially the mechanic who assumes responsibility for the modification. To clarify, the modification on the rear brake on the track costs about 400 Euro, but in order to approve it for use on the road, the cost is three times as much. In general, the costs depend on the changes requested.

What does the future of the Di.Di. association hold?

On the Paralympic side, we have made great strides in recent years thanks to the IMF and the Italian Paralympic Committee. This paved the way with FIM Europe. Having European regulations and standards is a big step forward for Paralympic motorcycling. Now I dream of a world championship! In the future, we aim at continuing and increasing the projects related to AS Licences, Motor Therapy in collaboration with the Department of Child Oncology of the Policlinico Gemelli in Rome and the Road Education project in schools. The latter is an activity that, thanks to the digital breakthrough forced by Covid, has had a great development. During the pandemic, we conducted 500 Zoom and Meet meetings with schools across Italy. 

And what does the future reserve for Emiliano Malagoli?

That’s a good question. I launched the Di. Different clothing line, with garments equipped with special technical solutions that make them easy to wear for those with physical disabilities, and I have become a Sports Mental Coach. I have a good relationship with fatigue, it’s the yardstick to see if the goal is the right one. Without effort, the finish line loses its meaning for me. Like in 2019, when I participated in the New York Marathon. I could have decided to run a marathon in Florence, but choosing New York eliminated every excuse to give up. This year I wanted to do the encore racing at the BMW Berlin Marathon in September, raising the bar of difficulty. The right approach to improve yourself is to challenge and overcome yourself, and I've always been ready to overtake!

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