Monday, March 25, 2013

NBA Player With MS Inspires Aspiring Writer

The following interview and story was written by a former intern of mine, Zach Lewis. Zach has spina bifida, and is working hard to get out of his wheelchair and chase his dream of being a journalist. He found inspiration in the story of NBA player Chris Wright, and I hope you'll find Zach's piece inspiring, too. - Bill 

As he comes into the locker room from pregame shootaround, takes a drink from his water bottle and relaxes in the leather chair in front of his locker, newcomer Chris Wright seems like any other player just trying to make the Dallas Mavericks. However, it was nearly a year ago when Wright started experiencing things unlike any other player… things would leave him barely even able walk.

Last March while playing basketball over in Turkey, Wright was running sprints in practice. As he went down to touch the line, he slipped.

That slip would change his life.

"My foot gave out and I thought nothing of it,” Wright said. “I thought I just slipped, but eventually it got worse and I had numbness in my right foot, and then it started the next month to progress to the whole right side of my body. I lost basically all sensation, and I went to the doctor and that’s when they diagnosed me with Multiple Sclerosis,”

Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a neurological disease which impacts the brain and spinal cord when the protective sheaths around the nerves are damaged. Common symptoms of MS include numbness, fatigue, loss of balance, blurred vision, poor coordination and problems with memory and focus. In severe cases, MS can cause paralysis and there is no known cure.

Wright originally was told by Turkish doctors that his basketball career was finished but that thought didn’t sit well with him. He had two things that no doctor could give him: Faith in the Lord and the will to overcome.

"The doctors told me that (my career was over), but I didn't think so. I just knew it'd be a process, and when I got back, it'd be a good story," he said.

While in Turkey, Wright had to take cortisone shots for about 10 days before he could travel back home. He really wasn’t able to walk and wasn’t able to do too much on his own, but the cortisone shots relieved the pain so he could start getting back on his feet again.

“Then I took about two-and-a-half months off from playing just to get myself together and figure out what medicine I was going to use and figure out how I was going to go about things, because a few doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to play again. So once I did that, I got back on my feet and started the process,” said Wright.

Wright disease is in remission. He takes a drug called Tysabri, which he says is the strongest MS medicine, and has not had an episode since the one in Turkey, which lasted two weeks. He also visits a specialist for a checkup every six months.

"(Tysabri) is an IV injection I take once a month, Wright explained. “It’s about a two-hour process and it’s something I have to do for the rest of my life. There's not a cure for MS. Can there be a relapse? Absolutely. But with the way I've been progressing and the way my body has been, it helps that I'm an athlete as well, it reduces the risk of that happening again. I just go from there and see what happens.”

The climactic moment in Wright’s journey came last week when the Mavericks called him up from the D-League and signed him to a 10-day contract. With that he became the first known NBA player to acknowledge having MS. Ironically, or as fate would have it, he was called up during MS Awareness Week.

"Everything kind of happened at the right time,” Wright smiled. ”It’s not a coincidence that I got called up during MS week, and I played during MS week, and I had my family with me when I got called up all during MS week.

His first field goal came against Cleveland when Wright scored two points while playing the final precious seconds in the Mavericks’ 96-86 victory.

"That’s why you believe in a higher authority,” he said. “And God blessed me, so I feel great.”

Since joining the Mavericks, Wright continues to inspire and motivate not just his teammates but the entire organization.

"It’s incredible that he’s able to fight through it and be fit and still play professional basketball,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "That’s a great story and I think everybody’s happy for him. It’s inspirational, so hopefully he’ll be OK for a long time. He seems like a really stress-free and a cool dude, and we wish him the best and hopefully he can succeed.”

Head coach Rick Carlisle also had praises for the 6-1 guard.

"It shows determination and an element of resourcefulness, which I think is a very important quality on any NBA team, to have as many resourceful guys as you can,” said Carlisle. “I know he's very pleased to have this opportunity. And it's going to give inspiration to others that may have similar conditions."

Since his diagnosis, Wright has learned about MS. His desire is to be one of the advocates for the disease and also help raise awareness as well. Wright wants to help raise the necessary funds so that one day doctors may find a cure for a disease that causes the nerves in the central nervous system to degenerate. He knows many people look up to professional athletes and views them as role models.

"I knew I wasn’t going to shy away from my story, because my story is part of me, and I didn’t know the impact that it would have, but I’m glad that it’s inspirational to a lot of people,” Wright explained. “And I’m definitely going to get heavily involved with MS and try to bring as much awareness and notoriety to it as possible. It’s a big platform for me and it’s something that I definitely cherish. One of my goals was to get here and to finally be on an NBA team, and to just show people with MS and give people hope that they can do what they want.”

Wright has since been released by the Mavericks, but wherever his next basketball home is he will continue to inspire others with similar setbacks to work hard to overcome as they chase their dreams.


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