By JULIE JAG
LONDON – On a typical London day, in which the rain and the sun took turns controlling the skies, Erick Murai took refuge in the close confines of an arena seat. There, with his father on one side, his brother behind him, and people from all reaches of the world and speaking dozens of languages around him, the Scotts Valley student settled in to watch a women’s basketball game between Canada and Brazil.
It’s been a long trip, but Murai’s wish to attend the Olympics is coming true.
“Oh yeah,” said Murai, 18. “I’m really enjoying it for the most part.”
For two years, Murai has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To fight the disease, he has to take daily chemotherapy pills and receive monthly spinal punctures to help the medicine reach his brain – a schedule he’ll have to keep up for at least a year. While he was receiving treatment at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital late in 2011, someone from the Bay Area chapter of Make-a-Wish approached Murai about granting him a wish.
Murai, who played basketball his freshman year and football his sophomore year at Scotts Valley, wanted it to involve sports. So, after his first choice of meeting NFL player Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t pan out, he decided to dream bigger, picking the biggest sporting event he could think of – the Olympics.
To his surprise, the group gave that wish the go-ahead. In all, Make-a-Wish America expected to send 43 Americans and 11 others to the Games, which run through Aug. 12.
Murai, who is traveling with his father, Gerrod, and brother, Christian, left Tuesday and will return Monday. He had only flown once – with the Falcons football team to Oregon – and he had never been out of the time zone, so just being in London has been a new experience.
“It’s pretty nice when it’s not raining,” Murai said. “That latest downpour wasn’t that great. We didn’t come prepared, we only have one umbrella.”
Murai said the trip has also involved more walking than he expected. Of course, that included extra miles spent trying to navigate the city, which has been turned into even more of a maze with the barriers erected around Olympic venues.
“Dad has us walking in circles just to cross the street,” Christian Murai, 15, joked.
Erick Murai specifically requested the chance to see basketball. Within hours of landing Wednesday, he was sitting almost courtside, watching the Team USA women romp over Turkey, 89-58. He also was treated to a session of three women’s basketball games on Friday, including the Canada-Brazil game. In between, the trio headed to Horse Guards Parade on Thursday night, where they watched four beach volleyball matches.
“I think that was more enjoyable than basketball,” Murai said.
That sport a big hit with the Brits as well, mostly because it involves women in bikinis playing close to the center of the city.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Murai said. He quickly added, “They were pretty good matches.”
The Murais likely won’t get to see Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. The Dream Team plays Lithuania in the early men’s basketball session today, and they have tickets to the late session, their final Olympic event.
The Olympics may be the centerpiece of this trip, but the Murai men are making the most of all London has to offer. Today they will see a performance of Phantom of the Opera at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre and on Sunday they will take in The Taming of the Shrew at the replica of Shakespeare’s The Globe.
They’re even tasting the local fare when they can. They haven’t been able to sample any bangers and mash or fish and chips yet, though, because Erick must finish eating at least three hours before he takes his nightly chemotherapy pills.
Still, he says the jet lag has slowed him as much as the leukemia treatments. Both make it hard to wake up when his dad tries to roust him at 7:30 each morning. But, Gerrod Murai doesn’t want this wish to be wasted in a hotel room.
“This is not a sort of relaxation trip,” he said. “It’s a lot of running around and getting things done.”