“If you smile, the world will smile back at you,” Marie Wright’s Paralympic journey

  • Marie Wright celebrates at the Paralympic Winter Games 2018 © WCF / Céline Stucki

The wonderful thing about an Olympics and Paralympics is that its legacy doesn’t just impact the host nation, or an individual sport as a whole, it can reach down and change the life of an individual athlete from the other side of the world or inspire a viewer to set ambitions they may never have had before.
In the second part of our Legacy Series ahead of curling returning to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic venue in South Korea, we look at how the Games has affected the life of just one individual.

Paralympic sport is more relevant than ever. There is more inclusion in Paralympic sport and more disabled athletes are becoming household names – something Canada’s Marie Wright has felt since taking home a bronze medal from the Paralympic Winter Games in February.

Yet, just like able-bodied athletes, the road isn’t as simple as working hard and achieving your dreams. Many factors come into being a top athlete that go beyond the training.

It has been thirty years since Marie suffered life-altering injuries in a car accident. 27-year-old Marie was an avid ice hockey fan and player.

She admits herself that she didn’t expect to be a curler prior to her accident, “My first thought was to try sledge hockey because I was a hockey player before the injury,” said Marie, “I was from a small community in Saskatchewan and there was no way of me getting to try out for the sledge hockey teams.”
“It wasn’t until I moved away after my husband left and the kids had grown up that I was able to try curling.”

“When I first started curling I had no idea that I would curl for Canada until I met the team and started pushing myself as that’s what I wanted to do.”

It was two years after the accident that Marie’s husband left, yet she continued to have a positive outlook on life. She had her four children who still support her at competitions. During the Paralympics this year, Marie’s oldest daughters – Kyla and Tara – were in the crowd cheering their mother onto a bronze medal.

In an interview with Canadian broadcaster, CBC, Kyla called her a ‘superwoman’. Despite her struggles with her disability and becoming a single mother shortly after, her family has always been first and has acted as a coping mechanism when life was difficult.

“After the injury I honestly can’t say I got depressed and that was probably down to having a one-year-old child in the accident, so my focus was on doing what I could for her and I dealt with my injury, she said, “The hardest part of that would’ve been when my husband left and that wasn’t dealing with the injury that was just dealing with what life was handing me at that point.”

“But I had the kids and that’s what kept me going so we moved to Moose Jaw and that’s where I was more focused on the kids. They were involved in hockey and school sports. That kept me going, but you get in a rut.”

This rut led Marie down a path that would eventually see her on the podium in South Korea earlier this year. The rut gave an agitated Marie a new lease on life.

“You’re at home, you don’t get out much, so curling gave me a lot of confidence,” said Marie.

She now trains four times a week on the ice, with the sport becoming second nature to her. But it wasn’t always that easy, “I wasn’t too sure about the sport at first,” she said, “My arm was getting twisted to get me out on the ice and try it and when I got on the ice it was a sport I fell in love with and went on from there.”

Curling has since had a positive effect on Marie’s life. Yet, it’s not all about curling making Marie the woman she is today. She has been as determined and head-strong years before her curling career.

“After the injury, I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me and didn’t want them to think I changed a lot,” she said, “I stayed positive and I was able to keep a good outlook on life and focus on raising my family.”

Yet, she acknowledges how beneficial her training has been in improving herself and her life, “Before I would often think that people would be patronising or feel sorry for me,” she said, “I would feel as if people would look at me and say, ‘You’re in a wheelchair and you’re on your own’. It allowed me to show people that I don’t need that. I’m a better person.

“I feel good about myself I was able to talk more confidently to people. Physically I feel better. My health is good. I can rarely say I’m tired. It’s given me a lot of energy.”

That confidence has since continued to grow which she attributes to her coaches and her peers in the sport. Since the Paralympics, Marie has become a local celebrity. Supermarket visits are often interrupted by fans. As she said, she’s suddenly known across Canada.

“The amount of people that have reached out to me or talked to me or asked me to do presentations is crazy. People that I don’t even know,” said Marie, “People in different cities will even come up to me on the street and say that they saw me on TV and how well I represented the country and that they were proud of that.”

Even in her newfound nationwide fame, Marie stays true to herself. Despite her injury, despite how difficult it was to raise four children by herself, she maintains that positive outlook on life that has led to her success, “People will say that there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been smiling.”

Marie’s journey may not have been a simple one, but it can be said that curling played a particularly large role in shaping her. While some top disabled athletes can struggle with what life throws at them, her love for curling and family inspired her to be better. It’s not been an easy ride, yet Marie’s cheerful demeanour shines through, even on a phone call.

“I want to make people around me feel good and I think if you continue to smile that the world will smile back at you,” she said.

It explains why Marie Wright has become a popular figure in Canadian curling. A true underdog story, a fantastic athlete and most of all she owns the biggest smile in the game.

Curling returns to the Gangneung Curling Centre this week – where the Paralympic Winter Games 2018 curling event was held – with the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2018, from 3-10 November.

By feature writer, Michael Houston

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