Manitoba

'I know I have so much strength': U of W basketball player reflects on recovery after stabbing

A University of Winnipeg basketball player says a vicious attack in which she was stabbed more than 40 times showed her how strong she is, mentally and physically.

Lena Wenke was 20 when she was stabbed more than 40 times in her home

Lena Wenke was 20 when she was stabbed more than 40 times. She says the experience showed her her own strength. (Kelly Morton Photography/Submitted by the University of Winnipeg Wesmen)

A University of Winnipeg basketball player says a vicious attack in which she was stabbed more than 40 times showed her how strong she is, mentally and physically.

Lena Wenke was 20 when she survived the attack on May 23, 2017. In the early hours of the morning, her attacker barged into her West End home, stabbed her multiple times and left her for dead outside. She was rushed to hospital in unstable condition.

After the attack, the basketball star began an arduous recovery, working to regain her ability to lift her arms, to increase her range of motion and rebuild her body.

It was in that time Wenke said she proved to herself how much strength she had.

"For me it was the only option," Wenke said Friday, in an interview with CBC Manitoba Up To Speed host Ismaila Alfa. "I had to be strong to get back on the court to do what I love."

Wenke's attacker, Junior Sesay, was found not criminally responsible for attempted murder in 2018. In January, Sesay, who had previously been a rising basketball star, was ordered to stay at a mental health facility until further notice. 

At the time of the attack, Winnipeg police said Wenke suffered "unbelievable" injuries. Her patellar tendon was cut, she said, and her deltoid muscles were damaged. She was on life support for 24 hours after the attack.

"I don't really remember a lot from that. I was just exhausted mentally and physically," Wenke said, looking back on her time in the hospital.

Days where 'I hated that it happened to me'

Wenke originally came to Canada from Germany to play basketball and said the ordeal was hard on her parents, who flew to Canada to be with her after the attack.

"They were devastated," Wenke said. "I remember my mom telling me that she was on her way home, actually, when the phone rang and my coach told her that I was in an attack and I was in unstable condition and they didn't know anything yet. And she still can't hear that ringtone anymore."

Lena Wenke has not ruled out playing professional basketball. (Kelly Morton Photography/Submitted by the University of Winnipeg Wesmen)

Wenke returned to Germany for her recovery, pushing through daily physiotherapy and celebrating the little milestones, like being able to reach the top of a door frame.

She never thought about giving up, but it wasn't always easy.

"I had bad days," she said. "I would just say that there have been times where it's been really hard and I thought I was stuck, and I hated that it happened to me."

But Wenke said she knew she needed to get back to Winnipeg and back to the basketball court.

"I wanted to make my coach proud of me. I didn't want her [to] regret having me here, taking me in," she said. "I wanted to show everyone that I am OK and that they don't have to worry about me."

'All possible emotions'

The return to her team in Winnipeg was overwhelming, Wenke said.

"I had all possible emotions," she said, laughing.

Then, her first shift back on the court, she scored six points.

Her plans now are to finish her undergraduate honours degree in psychology, which she is considering following up with a masters or even a PhD. She's also not ruling out playing basketball professionally.

"If this didn't happen to me, I would have never known how strong I was," she said. "There is this saying, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And that's exactly what happened. I know I have so much strength in me."

With files from Ismaila Alfa and Aidan Geary

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