A survivor of the 7/7 London bombings and a Gurkha who lost a leg in Afghanistan were yesterday named as part of the first ever British sitting volleyball team for the Paralympic Games. Martine Wright and Netra Rana were chosen in the women's and men's teams respectively for August's London Games.
Wright lost her legs on the Circle Line train on which a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Aldgate Station in 2005. The bombings came the morning after London had been awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"I have dreamt of being part of [the Paralympics] and now I am going there to do my country proud," she said yesterday. "I'd like to thank my family and friends for all their love and support they have given me in my quest to become a Paralympian."
Lance Corpoal Rana, of the Royal Ghurka Rifles, was left without his left leg below the knee after an explosion in Afghanistan four years ago. He will be one of more than a dozen disabled veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan likely to be part of the British team at the Paralympics. "I am so happy and so proud," he said. "It's important not to let yourself down after an injury and find a sport you can do. Sitting volleyball has helped me physically and mentally."
It is a remarkable sporting as well as human story. Three years ago Britain did not have a sitting volleyball team. As host nation it can enter all events at the Paralympics, but the British Paralympic Association insisted credible performance levels were reached before agreeing to sanction the teams.
Going for gold: The athletes
On 6 July 2005, Wright went out to celebrate London winning the Olympics. The next morning she missed her usual train. She described the aftermath of the explosion: "My trainer was up above me, stuck on a mangled piece of metal. There was blood all over it. There were screams everywhere. And then the screams began stopping." She spent a year in hospital and took up sitting volleyball after a trial at Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympics.
In January 2008, Rana was blown up while on patrol in Kandahar. He was unconscious for two days. "When I came round I could see my left leg was already gone, and the right one was in bandages. All I could think was, yes, I was unlucky to get injured, but I am lucky to be alive," he said. He took up volleyball to help his rehabilitation.
Walker, 31, from Aylesbury, was part of the GB team which won bronze at last month's Paralympic World Cup. He spent two years as an army bomb disposal expert but his occupation had nothing to do with the loss of his legs. "Ironic," is how he described his double amputation as a result of meningitis.
The captain of the women's team was 18 she went travelling in Australia and contracted a virus. It damaged her neurological system and left her without the use of her legs.
Bowen, from Aberdare, was 19 when she was injured in a mortar attack serving in Iraq in 2006. She was in hospital for 11 months. "It just shows you never know what you're good at until you try," she said.