Martine Wright was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, which means, of course, she is one of a dying breed: a true cockney, and very proud. As there is no longer a maternity ward at St Barts hospital, “the only way to give birth to a real cockney – in that sense of the word – is at home, or on a bus,” she laughs.
Wright laughs a lot, which might seem surprising, given her story. On July 7, 2005, she was travelling to work. She was running ten minutes late. She wasn’t meant to be on the Underground train with Shehzad Tanweer, the terrorist who detonated a bomb in her carriage, causing her to lose 10 pints of blood and her legs. But there she was.
Wright remembers waking up in the Royal London Hospital, realising her legs had been amputated. She doesn’t dwell on her suffering, though. “Anyone who has been through something traumatic will tell you, there’s always a turning point. There might be a few. For me, I woke up in hospital and was told how many people had died in the attack and I thought… I’m really bloody lucky. I’m still alive.”
She used the loss of her legs as an opportunity to grab life with both hands. Suddenly, distant dreams became real, as Wright learned to ski, to fly, to skydive. Another turning point came in July 2009.
“We had our son, Oscar,’ she says, pride resonant in her voice. “Once I’d come through the bleary eyed stage, a couple of months in, I decided I wanted to do something for me; something that I could dive into and get excited about, like I used to do at work. I went to the Amputee Games (an annual sporting event for people who have lost limbs) and fell in love with sitting volleyball.”
The rest is history; Paralympic history. Wright joined the British sitting volleyball team and became a member of the first team in Olympic and Paralympic history to form two and a half years before competing at the Games. “And to do it here, in my hometown,” she says, “that was amazing.”
In spite of what she describes as the “massive kick in the teeth” that sitting volleyball has been given, funding-wise, the team are looking for private sponsorship, and will not be discouraged. “It’s not an expensive sport, as sports go,” Wright explains. The team trains at Lynx Volleyball Club in Tower Hamlets, and are preparing for the European championships at the end of the year.
“Our aim is to get better and better; there are amazing teams out there, and we need to look at how we can beat them, so we’ll go to smaller competitions and pick up as much experience as possible, and then… Of course, Rio 2016 is the dream. But there are a lot of other major competitions between then and now, and that’s what we’re concentrating on.”
Her sporting prowess has not gone unnoticed outside of the sitting volleyball circuit. In December, Wright was awarded the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards. The accolade stands for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”. “I couldn’t put it into words really,” she says, sounding humbled and a bit amazed. “It’s an absolute honour. Of all the people that I met during London 2012 – so many inspirational people – I can’t believe they gave it to me. My husband, Nick, my whole family – they were all there. We were all so surprised, and I just hope… I’ve made them proud.” Her voice quickens. “I had such a fantastic summer. Everyone made it amazing; volunteers, games makers, the British public. We need to build on the passion and the good feeling; it’s still there. We’ve got to go on and inspire the next generation of people. We should never underestimate how important sport is. It changed my life, not just on a fitness level, but on a psychological level, an emotional level.”
She stops. Maybe good can come from bad, and a new life can grow from the ruins of a past one. She agrees. “I truly believe that I was on that tube for a reason; that I was meant to go to the Paralympics.”