LONDON (AP) — On the volleyball court far below her son’s “Go Mummy Go” banner, Martine Wright abruptly slid on her backside across the floor.
That little burst of motion, a swift move to keep a long rally alive, was the culmination of a seven-year ordeal that began a day after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
On Friday, Wright completed her transformation from Olympic fan to Paralympic athlete, sitting bemused by a scrum of reporters after playing for Britain’s sitting volleyball match against Ukraine.
“All I kept thinking of that morning was, ‘How the hell am I going to get tickets for this?’” Wright said, remembering back to when her hometown won the right to host the 2012 Games. “Now in a weird, weird twist of fate, destiny — whatever you want to call it — I don’t need tickets. I’m actually taking part.”
Wright lost her legs on July 7, 2005, when four suicide bombers inspired by Osama bin Laden detonated explosives on three London Underground trains and a bus, killing 52 commuters.
Wright shouldn’t have even been on the train that day. She woke up late and took the subway into work instead of driving. After the explosion, she became trapped in the mangled metal of a disintegrated carriage.
She was the last person to be evacuated.
During her rehabilitation, she learned to play disabled sports, first wheelchair tennis before finding her niche in sitting volleyball. And on Friday, she was playing for her country in front of her 3-year-old son, Oscar, and other family and friends.
“To finally get on court, in front of my friends and family who have been such a great support, was an absolute dream come true. And a dream I never actually had before July 7,” Wright said. “I suppose if people take something from my story, and my journey, then sometimes that gives me strength and inspiration.”
On Friday, Wright came on as a substitute early in Britain’s 25-9, 25-20, 25-14 loss to Ukraine. She’ll have at least two more chances to play in the sitting volleyball tournament before the Paralympics end next weekend.
Wright told The Associated Press earlier this year that she was one of the “lucky ones” on July 7. Some may disagree.
She told an inquest into the terror attacks that she recalled a flash of light and a sensation of being thrown from side to side when the bombs went off.
She looked up, and saw one of the new sneakers she had just bought. It was bloody, blown off her foot and skewered on a piece of metal. An off-duty policewoman, Elizabeth Kenworthy, found her, wrapped her leg in a tourniquet, held her hand, moistened her lips with water. She had lost three-fourths of her blood.
Her body swelled to twice its normal size because of her injuries. Her brother and sister saw her in the hospital and told the police it wasn’t her.
Wright will tell you that she had help to get through the seven years since 7/7. It’s about her team — what she refers to as “Team Me” — her support group of family and friends. It started in the hospital, with her mother, holding her daughter’s face in her hands, telling her she could have died or suffered brain damage.
But that didn’t happen. Martine was still Martine.
Wright saw the impact of the bombs on so many others. Families grieved. The city reeled in shock. She ultimately had to decide: What would it be, Martine?
The answer began with small steps on prosthetic legs. She fell down. But she got back up, again and again.
“When you go through something traumatic in your life … you sometimes lose who you are,” she said. “You’re thrown in this completely new world. When it happened to me, it didn’t sort of happen overnight, suddenly, an epiphany — Right. I can live my life now. It’s a very gradual process.”
She learned to fly, took up skiing. She got married, had a gorgeous little boy. But she needed more.
Always athletic, she missed the competitiveness she once experienced while working as a marketing manager — that passion for success, the thrill of winning. She became attracted to sitting volleyball because you don’t use a wheelchair.
Like volleyball, it has six players to a side and three touches allowed, but the net is lower and players mostly sit on the floor. When Wright is on the court, she isn’t thinking about disability.
Plus, at the gym, Wright found camaraderie. Her teammates, too, have their stories — like Samantha Bowen, a veteran who was injured while serving in Iraq. On Friday, they were all a family.
Wright went into the match buoyed by receiving an email from Kenworthy during the week, wishing her good luck.
And the banner — her son Oscar’s tribute — well, that was part of the dream, too. To have the family there, to have them be able to share the moment — it closed the circle for her. Now it’s not a dream anymore.
“It’s such a negative thing that happened in my life,” Wright said. “But I’ve gained something so positive. It’s a miracle in itself.”
Go Mummy indeed.
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka contributed to this report.
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