Surviving 7/7 bombings: Martine Wright from Tring
PUBLISHED: 10:41 08 July 2019
Simon and Schuster
Tring’s Martine Wright was the most injured survivor of the 7/7 terror attacks 14 years ago this month. Her story from that atrocity to now teaches us that we are never beaten if we have love, courage and goals
I got blown up during the 7/7 attacks, so people think I've lost my mind when I say that seven is my lucky number.'
These are Martine Wright's words in her broad happy-go-lucky east London accent, speaking in her kitchen at home in Tring.
'I try and think of the number seven as a positive thing,' she continues. 'I want to embrace the number seven and not be afraid of it. I've also got seven ways that help me to deal with days when life makes you feel like you can't cope - be happy and positive, the power of sport, accept what's happened, laugh a lot with friends, have a sense of humour, embrace support from family and have belief.' She adds, 'If you believe in something you can do it.'
The 47-year-old knows all about the complexities of the road from despair to recovery. The blast from the bomb during the 7/7 terrorist attacks caused agonising life-changing injuries. Yet she openly talks about being 'the most injured survivor'.
Fourteen years ago, Martine led a completely different life to the one she does today. On July 6, 2005 she was living in her home city of London and was employed as an international marketing manager. She was a career driven girl-about-town who loved Christian Louboutin shoes and travelled internationally with work. That evening, like many Londoners, she had been out celebrating the news that the capital had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympics.
The following morning she stayed an extra 10 minutes longer in bed due to the celebrations the night before. Running late, and wearing new white trainers, she ran for the tube on the Circle Line and jumped on the second carriage. She would discover later that the seat she had chosen was about three feet from suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer.
At 8.49am as the tube train travelled between Liverpool Street Station and Aldgate East, the 22-year-old detonated the bomb he'd concealed in a large rucksack. It killed seven people and injured and maimed around 100. One of Martine's legs was torn off in the explosion. By the time firefighters had painstakingly freed the remains of her leg from the carriage, she had lost nearly 80 per cent of her blood. She was the last person brought out alive from the atrocity. Because of the magnitude of her wounds surgeons were forced to amputate both legs.
Four bombers killed 52 people and injured more than 700 in the coordinated attacks on public transport in London that day. The repercussions of the attacks affected many, many more.
Remarkably, Martine holds no anger towards the bombers. 'I don't believe that the young men were solely responsible for their actions. I think it was likely that they'd had certain weaknesses exploited by other people, perhaps by brainwashing.'
But she does however struggle to understand how they could do what they did. 'I struggle to understand it because the bombers had families, wives and girlfriends, so why would they want to take their own lives and the lives of hundreds of others?'
After multiple life-saving operations Martine woke up from a coma eight days later in the Royal London Hospital.
'Looking down the bed and realising both my legs were gone was a horrendous shock, one that I would relive every time I woke up day after day. I thought my life was over. I just kept repeating "but I've got no legs, but I've got no legs".
'It was my family that kept me going, saying things like "legs can be replaced, you are still Martine". It was that support and love that helped me through those really dark days.'
It took a huge effort to summon up the strength to move past the atrocity. Initially she felt suffocated by dark 'why me?' thoughts. She had been just a normal person when she had been caught up in a world of terrorism, and that sudden change was emotionally crippling.
Though Martine's voice crumples slightly when she talks about the catastrophic events of 7/7, she selflessly says how the attack 'happened to everyone in London, and not just to her'.
It is apparent that she still feels deep pain for the suffering and helplessness that her family and her now husband Nick experienced during the aftermath. 'My dad still can't talk about it,' she explains. 'Even 14 years later he still holds that pain in his heart and cries about it.'
But her compassion doesn't stop at worrying about the effects the trauma had on her family. Martine also talks of the 'immense sorrow for other victims of terror attacks and their families', such as those who were caught up in the attacks on Westminster Bridge and Manchester Arena.
'I still get a lurch in the pit of my stomach and the dread really hits home when newsreaders adopt that certain tone in their voice, and you just know that it has happened again.'
The real turning point in Martine's recovery came when someone tapped her on the shoulder in Royal London Hospital and told her to go to physiotherapy as she was strong enough to get new legs. On the way Martine saw the front page of a newspaper and discovered that 52 people had died in the attacks that almost killed her. She had avoided any news reports, so this was the first time she realised just how lucky she was to be alive. It was at that moment she knew she had two choices - she could either stay wallowing in self pity and depression or she could live her life. She decided to learn how to walk again.
In physio she met other victims of the attacks who had also lost limbs, and a lady who had lost both arms and both legs through meningitis. Sharing experiences with them taught her that life is not fair, but also not to dwell on the hard times.
She accepted now that her old life was gone and she 'needed to rebuild her life - find out who she was again'. After 10 months of surgery and a long period of physio she started doing things she never thought possible. She learned how to fly an aeroplane and earned a pilot's licence. By accepting that falling over was inevitable, she learned how to ski. Despite her family being besides themselves with fear, she also decided to parachute from a plane at 10,000 feet. She says that by grabbing every opportunity she could, each one restored a piece of the confidence that was stolen from her on the day of the bombings.
She did however continue to mourn her old life, often in the smallest of things, like running for a bus or wearing a good pair of high heeled shoes. But she was making new memories too, so she consoled herself with 'glass-half-full thoughts like I may not be able to run for a bus, but I can fly a plane'.
Even though her beloved husband Nick and her son Oscar (now 10) are her world she also needed goals to focus on - so she started playing sitting volleyball for her local team. She says it was her teammates, also amputees, who were her inspiration to dream a new life. Martine says they would laugh and mickey-take non-stop. It was their political incorrectness and dark humour, together with the power of sport, that really helped the healing process.
With a newly fired spirit, in 2010 Martine tried out for the GB women's sitting volleyball team and on July 7, exactly five years after the bombings, she was on her way to America to take part in her first tournament. Two years later, in what was a fitting tribute to her joy at the news of London hosting the games seven years earlier and her remarkable resilience and determination, she was on the Team GB Paralympic sitting volleyball team at London 2012 with her family and friends, and thousands more, cheering her on.
Martine became team captain, but due to funding issues British Volleyball decided not to send a team to the following Paralympics in Rio. Instead she attended the 2016 games as a roving reporter for Channel 4 and went on to present other high-profile sporting events like the Invictus Games for the BBC.
In 2012 she was honoured with the Helen Rollason Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Face of Adversity in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony. In 2015 the Independent voted her one of the '50 most powerful women in British Sport' and in 2016 she was awarded an MBE by the Princess Royal for services to sport and her work as a role model to amputee athletes.
Today, Martine holds on to the firm belief that 'something good can come out of something bad' and says that with the right mental attitude, support and love anyone can conquer dark days. Her extraordinary courage and unbroken spirit is an inspiration to thousands as she shares the story of her journey from despair to determination by giving talks - on occasion to as many as 13,000 at the O2 and Wembley. She also chooses to help others by spending her time mentoring those in hospital who have lost limbs.
Read about Martine Wright's extraordinary achievements in her autobiography, Unbroken: My story of survival from 7/7 Bombings to Paralympic success, published by Simon and Schuster. In the inspirational book she documents seven people's experiences of the 7/7 bombings and discusses the power of her lucky number 7.