Marie Wright, Champion Wheelchair Curler: The Unbelievable Road to Gold
On August 20, 1988, the world as Marie Wright knew it changed in one single, devastating second. Working on her family farm, Marie was combining that day. Needing to unload into another grain bin, Marie gathered her two young daughters, nephew and niece into the half-ton truck. With everyone settled, Marie set out following the grain truck.
It was a dark, dusty and windy night on that late summer evening just south of Oxbow. In the blink of an eye, the grain truck was suddenly there in the middle of the road, slowing to turn. There was no time and no choice but to hit the ditch to avoid hitting the back of the grain truck. The loose gravel on the road made things worse, and the half-ton truck flipped three times, end over end. That was the last thing Marie remembered that night.
Marie broke her back at the T11 vertebrae and her spinal cord was crushed. She was left paralyzed from the waist down. Her eight-year-old nephew was left with a brain injury, but still able to walk. Marie’s 10-year-old niece broke her leg, and was left with a large leg gash, but otherwise, was lucky. Aside from a cracked elbow and broken pelvic bone, her three-year old daughter Jolene’s injuries were thankfully minimal.
Marie’s one year old daughter Rachelle was thrown 110 feet from the truck — 90 feet in the air — and was left with a brain injury. She remained in a coma for three months, and has since been confined to a wheelchair with the inability for function on the left side of her body.
It was not until June of 1989 that they would all finally make it home from the hospital. On July 8, 1989, Jolene (who was now four) was struck by a car, and as Marie painfully describes, “She came rolling out the end like a plastic bag.” Jolene had five bleedings on the front of her brain, 14 stitches in the back of her head, and nine posterior stitches. Jolene was also left with a broken femur, and all things considered, she was “a miracle child” to have survived such catastrophic impact.
Jolene was rushed by ambulance from Oxbow to Estevan, and then to Regina. Marie’s father drove them to the hospital in frantic pursuit. Complaining of chest pains along the way, Marie’s father suffered a heart attack that evening and ended up in Cardiac ICU, needing an angioplasty.
In 1990, Marie’s husband left. “It was likely the hardest thing I went through,” says Marie. Confined to a wheelchair with four young children was no easy task, but Marie was determined to keep going for her children and focused life on that — not the devastating negatives that had plagued the family.
Unfortunately, the challenges would not let up. In 1999, at the age of 17, Marie’s daughter, Tara had open-heart surgery to repair the mitral valve in her heart. Marie’s oldest daughter, Kyla, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23. After 14 chemotherapy treatments and five weeks of radiation therapy, Kyla has been living cancer-free for 12 years now.
Singularly, any of these events could demolish a person’s spirit and outlook on life. For Marie, that was not an option. The series of tragedies and hardships that Marie persevered through is nothing short of remarkable.
Her grandchildren began to join the world in 1996, and Marie credits their presence in her life as one of the greatest blessings she has enjoyed. She now has 10 grandchildren, and along with the rest of her family, they have become her biggest cheerleaders as Marie set out to conquer yet another unbelievable feat.
It was 2009 when friend and coach, Lorraine Arguin, convinced Marie to try wheelchair curling. Lorraine wanted to bring a team from Saskatchewan to the Canadian Nationals, and as the rules require, one member of the opposite gender is needed. Marie did not have an overwhelming desire to enter the world of curling, but even though she was not necessarily keen on the idea, she decided to help out her friend and give it a try. “To my surprise, I absolutely loved it,” Marie continues, “I could not get enough. I fell in love with the sport.”
That first year, Marie made Team Sask. With a lot of hard work and practice, the team won their first gold medal at Canadian Nationals by 2012. Marie realized she was just getting started. She was invited to a camp run by the Canadian national coaches and was tested in many skill shots. Marie received the development card that year which granted her extra funding to help with the training expenses.
Working hard both on and off the ice, Marie was driven even further after a trip to Finland to attend the World Championships as an alternate. Although she did not play at this event, the international experience sparked a greater fire for the sport and even bigger goals. In 2016, Marie played third for Team Sask and took away the gold medal in Regina. Marie was named the All-Star third during this event.
Making Team Canada in 2017 brought Marie to PyeongChang, South Korea to compete at the World Championships — which is a test event for the Paralympic Games. Even though the team placed fifth, Marie’s performance would lead to the ultimate athletic experience — making the 2018 Paralympic team that would bring her back to PyeongChang.
Not only did the team take away an Olympic Bronze Medal, the entire event is one Marie will never forget. She describes the experience amongst the other athletes, coaches, trainers and family as “the most incredible experience I’ve had… so many memories and so many friends.” Marie was not quite done yet for the year. Five days after returning home from South Korea, Marie skipped her team to a gold medal at the Canadian Nationals in Leduc, Alberta with 11 wins and 0 losses.
Through immeasurable adversity and more painful experiences than the human spirit can be expected to endure, Marie Wright turned catastrophic hardship into triumph beyond her wildest dreams. And this Moose Jaw resident is not done yet.
“I would like to see four more years and go back to the Paralympics in Beijing, China in 2022.”
As Marie has demonstrated time and again, nothing has a chance of getting in her way.
By Sarah Moore Photos Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee