Sunday, August 26, 2012

Paralympic dream for London attacks survivor

When Martine Wright headed to work just over seven years ago and began reading about London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in a newspaper, taking part had not entered her head.

The previous day, July 6, 2005, the International Olympic Committee had awarded the British capital the Games at a ceremony in Singapore, triggering scenes of widespread celebration.

But during the morning rush hour on July 7, the mood was shattered when four Islamist suicide bombers detonated their explosives on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus, killing themselves and 52 others.

Martine Wright could easily have been one of the victims. One of the bombers blew himself up in the carriage of her Circle Line train. She lost her legs and only awoke from a coma in hospital more than a week later.

Yet, as she prepares to represent the host nation at sitting volleyball in the Paralympics next Friday, Wright counts herself fortunate.

"I can't believe it (the Paralympics) is just days away now, I can't wait," said the 39-year-old, who was born and raised in London, even going to college near the site of the Olympic Stadium in east London.

"We've been watching the countdown for so many days, months and years and I can't wait to get there now.

"I was unlucky to get on that Tube that day but I was so lucky to survive and I think about the 52 people who died that day. I'm the lucky one, I'm embarking on that dream. I feel I was meant to make this journey."

Sport has been a key part of Wright's rehabilitation. She tried a number of different sports at a British Paralympic Association (BPA) open day but plumped for sitting volleyball and started playing in 2009.

The fast-paced game is similar to the non-disabled version but played on a 10m x 6m court with a lower net and involves two teams with six of differing disabilities playing at one time.

Athletes have to keep their pelvis on the ground at all times with games played as best of five sets. The first team to reach 25 points with at least a two-point lead winning a game.

Britain is represented in all 20 sports at the Games, which open on Wednesday and end on September 9.

The team members, brought together only in the last two to three years, readily admit they are not medal-contenders yet are thrilled to be performing on home soil in front of British fans.

"I'm here living a dream," said Wright, in comments issued by the BPA. "The goal is to go out there and do the best we can. We've got to make sure we do our absolute best on court and make our nation and our families proud."

Participation is also another achievement for a determined woman whose story provides a remarkable beginning and end to London's Games.

"I really wanted to have a new ambition after I lost my legs. I tried out lots of different sports but I fell in love with sitting volleyball," she said.

"It's absolutely brilliant. It's a unique sport, I found it quite liberating to be able to get on to the floor and do a sport without any adaptive equipment, like a wheelchair."

Britain's women play their first match against Ukraine on Friday August 3, with Wright undoubtedly set to be the focus of attention.

"My friends and family are the inspiration for me. They're why I can't wait to get on that court, just to make them proud," she said.

But after all she has endured, she has surely already done that.


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