Francisca Alatriz's estranged ex-husband fired nine bullets from a .22 caliber pistol at her -- five entered her body.
Two years later, Francisca, 48, along with her two children Leticia and Victor, have qualified to compete in perhaps one of the largest and most prestigious martial arts tournaments. But more profoundly, they intend to use this international competitive forum to bring attention to domestic violence.
"A lady of her age and five bullet wounds -- two near fatal," said Roscoe Dabney, Tonto Apache Tribe police officer and Alatriz family patron saint. "To take up an endeavor such as karate, is amazing."
Francisca, Leticia, 23, and Victor, 18, strive to compete in the Sports Karate International League's World Titles at the invitation-only National Black Belt League's Super Grands World Games Dec. 26 to Dec. 31 in Buffalo, N.Y.
The threesome earned a berth to compete in the event by winning gold medals in the World Martial Arts Championship in July 2005.
"We're raising money for the Dec. 26 tournament," said Dabney. "This is an opportunity for the family and for Payson to gain national notoriety as town that's against domestic violence, and that supports its victims."
On April 12, 2003 Manuel Diaz pulled alongside Francisca as she drove from her home in Star Valley to her job at Mazatzal Casino. Francisca, as translated through Leticia, said she rolled down her window, thinking Diaz wanted to talk to her.
Instead he pulled out a pistol and fired.
All Francisca remembers saying is, "God help me," as the bullets penetrated her body. Francisca managed to drive to the Circle K in Star Valley where she sought help.
"My mom was in the ambulance. She was talking. She was worried about us," Leticia said.
After the shooting, Diaz headed to the casino where Leticia worked as a security guard.
"He would've killed us too," said Leticia.
Leticia remembers her father always having a violent streak, but she said his ire grew worse when the family moved to Payson in 1997.
"He started gambling at the casino," Leticia said. "The more he lost, the more angry he was. And then he fell back on drinking. It got to the point where you wouldn't see any food at all in the refrigerator. All you'd see is beer."
Since turning himself in shortly after the shooting, Diaz was booked and held on $1 million bail. He's currently awaiting trial for second-degree attempted murder, which carries a 15-year maximum sentence, but Leticia believes he'll be released after seven.
"In February, he's been in jail almost three years," Dabney said. "And that time has counted. There's concern about reprisals."
Meanwhile, the Alatriz family stays positive and focused through martial arts.
Leticia took up Japanese karate 10 years ago in Mexico after thieves broke into her family's home, and her father's temper flared.
"It became more than a sport. It became our way out of domestic violence," Leticia said.
Victor followed his sister's passion a few years later, and after recovering from her gunshot wounds, Francisca joined her children at the dojang two years ago.
The Alatriz family practices a Korean form of martial arts, called Hwa Rang Do, with master Chris Bailey at the Karate-Kung Fu Center.
Victor and Leticia wear green sashes -- the fourth level of mastery; Francisca competes on the third level of Hwa Rang Do and dons the yellow sash.
"My death would have been senseless," Francisca said. "I'd rather die in the ring."
"She wanted to do something for herself," Leticia added. "This was her chance."
And through her own experience, Francisca wants to tell the world that domestic violence touches everyone.
"Domestic violence is something that is so serious," she said. "Unfortunately it happens every day."
In addition to fighting for battered women, she is writing a book about her life. She plans to donate proceeds to victims.
Dabney is supplementing the Alatriz family's efforts with a video documentary, starting with the tournament in New York.
"The ultimate goal is to reduce the level of domestic violence in the community," Dabney said. "The family can be a tremendous force."
The Alatriz clan is accepting donations of any size, and hopes to earn $15,000 to cover expenses for the world tournament. To help, send tax-deductible contributions to the Alatriz Family c/o Indian Christian Fellowship, P.O. Box 412, Payson, AZ 85547. For more information, contact Dabney at (928) 978-9368.