Martine Wright: 'Sport has given me confidence again and a whole new dream: London 2012'
After surviving the 7/7 bombings, she has rebuilt her life with the goal of a home Games
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 24 August 2011
Every so often as she tells her story, Martine Wright glances over her left shoulder at a large projector screen. The image is a little fuzzy but there can be no mistaking it; the Olympic Stadium with its already distinctive A-frame floodlights. It's a structure that bookends her story.
It was on 6 July 2005 that London was awarded the Olympic – and Paralympic – Games. That evening Wright, a Londoner to her core having been "born in the sound of Bow Bells", celebrated with her colleagues. When she returned home she made the first of a series of small decisions that were to have huge consequences. "I went home not that late but late enough and as a result decided to set my alarm for the next morning 20 minutes later than usual," says Wright. She is sitting in a wheelchair at the University of Bath on the eve of a training camp at the British Paralympic Association's sporting base.
"Meeting people like this at events like this shows that one can never underestimate the power of sport," says Wright. The Paralympics are a year away and the 39-year-old is on course to be there, a member of the British sitting volleyball team.
This is how she comes to be here. "It was a normal July day," she says. "I got to Old Street and the Northern Line was down – signal failure. So I thought shall I get a bus or shall I stay on and get the Circle Line? I hated getting the Circle Line and used to try and avoid it. But I stayed on. I got to Moorgate, ran up the escalator and there was a Tube just coming in. I thought 'result'. I got into one of the front carriages as they were right there – again that was something I didn't usually do. I normally got on in the middle.
"I sat down and started reading my paper. It was full of the Olympics and I was thinking I must get tickets. Then there was this white flash. The weird thing was it didn't feel like a milli-second – I remember looking at this white light and thinking 'what's going on?' It's odd that you can think that, say that in your head in a split second.
"Then the flash went away and suddenly we were in this devastated, black environment. I had a bit of metal sticking into my legs here [she points at where her legs end halfway down her thighs]. I looked up and my new white trainer was up above me, stuck on a mangled piece of metal. There was blood all over it. I thought 'how's my trainer up there and I'm down here?' There were screams everywhere. And then the screams began stopping. You can draw your conclusions why."
Wright was trapped in the wreckage outside Aldgate Tube station for an hour and 10 minutes. People further away from the bomber died, but her life was saved by Liz Kenworthy, an off-duty policewoman. "I never ever thought I was going to die. Never. I had no idea the injuries I had sustained were so bad. I can only remember bits of it. I don't remember the pain but I remember the miracle. Liz came down the carriage and she had a choice to make – who was she going to help? Thank God she helped me. She gave me a tourniquet. It felt like something out of a western – I remember watching westerns as a kid and someone would tie a belt round their leg. [Later] a paramedic injected me with something. I thought I passed out but I didn't. Apparently I was screaming with pain as they cut me out. I think your brain can't take any more once it gets to a certain point.
"I was taken to the Royal London [hospital]. I had no ID on me. My family spent nearly 48 hours trying to find me. I was missing – I can't imagine what they went through. My dad, a taxi driver, was scouring the London hospitals. I woke up 10 days later and a nurse told me I'd lost my legs and that was the start of the realisation of what happened."
She spent a year in hospital, overcoming the injury and learning to walk on prosthetics. "Coming out of hospital was a huge thing," says Wright, who has since married her boyfriend, Nick, and moved out to Hertfordshire. They have a two-year-old, Oscar. And there were other signs of recovery. "I began to feel that ambition again that I used to feel at work so I went to a Paralympic potential day at Stoke Mandeville and fell in love with sitting volleyball."
The Paralympic Games traces its roots to Stoke Mandeville hospital in the aftermath of the Second World War. With host status looming, the British Paralympic Association organised a series of trials in a bid to discover new talent. Wright had found her new passion. She says: "Now I'm playing sport which I absolutely love and at a level that I never ever dreamt of. It's given me ambition again and a whole new dream. What it's also given me back is my confidence. I truly believe that sport can give more to someone who is disabled than able-bodied."
She was chosen as part of a new team, who have had to learn the sport in the course of two years. They finished 11th at the last world championships. "The learning curve has been steep," says Wright. "We are getting better. It's about credibility, to prove we're good enough to be there."
Accepting the usual sporting cautions, Wright will be there. "To go back to London and do this thing that I absolutely love and for my family to be there will mean so much," she says. "I'm lucky I didn't die. All those coincidences... the last thing I was reading on the train, all I could think about was how do I get tickets for the Olympics. It's surreal I might now be part of it all as a result of something awful happening in my life."
Team 2012, presented by Visa, is raising funds to support 1,200 British athletes as they prepare for a place at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Visit www.visa.co.uk/goldenspace
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