WHEN times were at their toughest during a tumultuous 15 months of recovery and rehabilitation from a brain injury, all anyone wanted was the old Owen Wright back.
In the end they got a new, improved version.
Even Wright himself has expressed shock at his ability to make a winning return to surfing’s competitive arena after a wipe-out left him with brain trauma so severe he had to learn to walk, talk and surf all over again.
“I would have been happy to have just come back and surfed a couple of heats,’’ the former world No. 5 admitted to The Daily Telegraph after his win at the Quiksilver Pro last Sunday.
But he isn’t surprised at how he has changed.
“It’s a cliche but it’s true. What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger,’’ he said.
“You have doubts and fears and you have to learn how to push through them. That changes you. It does make you stronger.
“Everything I see right now is just such a blessing. It’s hard for me to find bad things after what I’ve already been through.’’
But it isn’t his “rollercoaster of emotion’’ journey back from the brink that Wright attributes to his transformation, it’s a tiny treasure he can pick up in one hand, his baby son Vali who was born in December.
“I feel like I’m a better person because of him,’’ Wright says simply of his first born with partner and singer Kita Alexander.
“He makes everything make sense. It’s lovely to have him to share this moment with.
“I now realise before I had so much idle time on my hands but now every second is filled with love and joy and I’m loving it. It has given me a new lease on life.’’
Behind every strong man there is a stronger woman. What a journey we have been on… let’s continue it with more sp… pic.twitter.com/xvhvDz72qV
— Owen Wright (@RealOwenWright) March 20, 2017
Wright’s old lease on life was nearly extinguished on December 20, 2015, as he prepared for the Pipeline Masters in epic conditions at the infamous Hawaiian surf spot.
He copped a wave to the head. He managed to get out, walk up the sand to his beachfront accommodation. Not long after an ambulance took him to hospital.
Wright doesn’t talk about the accident or go into detail about the ramifications. But they were life-altering, potentially career-ending.
His family and friends rallied around him as his recovery began. But Wright’s first surf three months later — less than nine months after he was rattling off a series of history-making perfect 10s at the Fiji Pro at Cloudbreak — didn’t go well.
“I couldn’t get to my feet. So I just layed [sic] there.” Wright wrote on social media.
Almost 12 months to the day Wright pulled off one of sport’s most remarkable comebacks with his victory in the opener of the World Surf League at Snapper Rocks.
“To do what I did. Confront the challenge. Come back to the ocean and the sport, every challenge was made easier because of the support I had. Of the people who love me,’’ he said.
Wright had to knock over a queue of world champions and top dogs to reach the final against his great mate Matt Wilkinson — including triple world champion Mick Fanning and Brazilian Gabriel Medina — but he says that made his life easier.
“I was lucky. They are such good friends it just felt like a normal surf. It took all the stress away,” Wright said.
Wright has never spoken about the specifics of his injury, reportedly a brain bleed which affected his speech, his balance and his movement.
But he speaks openly about his fear that his life would be changed forever and that he would not surf again.
“It’s bizarre how life works. I’ve been really lucky that I was blessed with good news, good doctors and good people that allowed me to be here,’’ he said.
“With head injuries, a lot of your co-ordination struggles. I went through all those struggles, and basically, it all came together.’’
And Wright says any self doubts he had in the lead-up to his Quiksilver Pro victory have now vanished.
“There are no doubts now,’’ he said. “I’m just excited.’’
Originally published as What a ride! From brain injury to world No.1