Come to find out, Patricia is a very special young woman who hates to hear “can’t.” It's as vulgar to her as any swear word.
If she went around saying “can't”, her life-long battle with seizures coupled with the death of her parents, a debilitating car accident and a stroke, would have most certainly kept her from ever trying martial arts. Instead, she persevered and ultimately made Team Ontario, qualifying for the national karate championships.
“I didn't ever consider that I would be able to make it,” said Wright, who trains at Chatham's Zanshin Dojo Karate Club. “I'm not young. I'm 39 years old. I'm going to be 40 in a few months. It's a young person’s game. And I'm disabled. But anything is possible.”
She proved that philosophy again in no uncertain terms recently by winning a gold medal in her division at the Karate Canada championships in Richmond, B.C. Now she's hungry for a bigger stage however but she has to wait to see if her division will be added to the world championships in October in Austria. “Hope and pray,” she said. “Hope and pray. But I'm not going to stop here.”
Wright has had memory problems since 2010 when a car hit her bicycle and sent her head bouncing off the pavement. But she can still recite the credo of her first martial arts class. She reads it often to be sure she doesn't forget.
“I will not use or believe the word cannot.
I will keep my thoughts and words and actions positive.
I will believe anything can be achieved if one has the desire to achieve it.”
She personalizes the credo by adding one more line. “It's my thoughts, my words, my actions, my choice.”
Wright has suffered uncontrolled seizures since she was 22 months old. Her mother, Pearl, was protective but Wright still competed in curling and basketball. She wanted more, though. She started with martial arts in the late '90s in her hometown of Ancaster, ON. It was her form of teenage rebellion, as she puts it.
“At least I didn't start smoking and doing drugs. It was fitness. It was a good way to rebel,” she emphasized.
She fell in love with karate. When her club switched to teaching krav maga, a self-defence system she found too violent, she joined a new club. As fate would have it, she was on her final day of black-belt testing when a seizure, possibly stress-related, sent her to the hospital. She isn't sure if she'll ever try again to replace her brown belt with black. She's reluctant to again put her body through the strain. She's happy to continue doing kata -- choreographed karate movements that students try to perfect. She competed in kata at the recent national championships, which welcomed athletes with a disability (AWAD) for the first time this year.
“I just want to continue learning,” she explained. “I don't want to get stuck and say, 'Those are all the kata I’m allowed to learn.' As long as I keep learning, it doesn't matter what belt I have.”
Wright's parents owned a catering company in Ancaster and she helped them while studying at George Brown College to be a patisserie, or pastry chef. She was so good, teachers made her compete as a pro instead of a student in her final year of school. She loved making breads and pastries and, most of all, wedding cakes. She also worked at Tim Hortons and was being groomed to be a manager.
When her mother announced in 2009 that the family was moving to Chatham, Wright agreed to put her career on hold. Sadly, her mother died before the move, but Wright promised to look after her ailing father, Phillip, in Chatham for the next year. The one-year deadline was nearing when her world was turned upside down once again.
She was riding her bike on a sidewalk (the risk of a seizure made riding on roads too dangerous) when she was hit by a car exiting a parking lot. “The main thing I remember is my head bouncing off the ground,” she said. “It reminded me of a basketball.” She suffered a traumatic brain injury and was diagnosed with epilepsy. The crash also injured the right side of her body. She still wears braces on her shoulder, knee and ankle.
She was assigned a personal care worker. One day, the worker couldn't understand her. Wright had suffered a stroke. She's gotten better since then, but she's still visited by the Red Cross twice a week. She needs help housecleaning and sometimes must be reminded to eat her meals. Every appointment goes in her iPhone. Even with the reminders, she still sometimes shows up early – maybe a few hours, maybe a whole day.
She gets around with a cane or a walker. If she falls, she goes down hard on her face. She's broken her nose and cheekbone. Her front teeth are fake. “Forgive me for saying, it's hell, but I deal with it,” she said. “... You have to deal with it. Otherwise, it's going to bring you down further and further and further.”
She jokes that doctors “ganged up” and forced her to get a seizure response dog (she’s a cat person) “George” is tethered to her waist whenever she leaves home. The miniature poodle is trained to bark like a demon and get attention if Wright falls.
As she gets older, she needs more recovery time between seizures. Her last was on Dec. 16. “It's been just over a month since I've had one, which is pretty good,” she said, laughing. She also chuckles when noting the car that hit her was leaving a Tim Hortons parking lot. “I guess my career there wasn't meant to be,” she said.
Wright went without participating in karate for at least a year after the accident. She can't remember exactly how long. She tried to rejoin her former club in Chatham, but she was turned away as an insurance risk. She's been at the Zanshin Dojo Karate Club for two years. “She's very determined,” chief instructor Daniel Whittal said. “There are a lot of students in the dojo who are inspired by what she does. She shows them to never quit, no matter how frustrated they might be. She might fall down, but she gets right back up and puts the game face on.”
Her balance isn't what it used to be, but it is improving. She needs longer to learn new tasks. “I've gotten as far as I have now because I used to do martial arts before,” she said. “My muscles remember.” If she can't perform a movement, Whittal will modify it for her. But she'll try almost everything.
“I don't like to say 'no',” she said. “I don't like the word, 'can't.' I try. And if the joints don't agree, I'll stop. But until they start screaming at me, I'll keep going.” She has limited mobility of her right side. Her “lazy leg” sometimes has a mind of its own. Her right shoulder is easily dislocated, so she can't raise her right hand above her waist. Fortunately, she's left-handed.
Many people are worse off, she insists. She meets some at the New Beginnings Club for those who have had strokes or brain injuries. “I see that, and I'm lucky,” she adds.
She doesn't often do kumite, or sparring, but she knows how to punch. If given the chance, she wouldn't turn down a match. “There's no harm in trying, right?”
That’s (W)right Patricia…Once a champion, always a champion!
We can all learn something from you...Keep on “trying” – and achieving!