Anne Abernathy - Along For The Ride
When it's time for the Olympics, most 48 year old people are in their living rooms, nestled in their recliner, remote in easy reach.
Not Anne Abernathy. The only recliner she is familiar with has steel runners attached, and flies at phenomenal speeds down a mile-long icy run. And the only thing that resembles a "remote" are the locations in which she trains.
She is an extraordinary woman, in an extraordinary sport. She competes in the Luge, the fastest sport without an engine, and at age 48, an age considered advanced in such a sport, she is affectionately known as "Grandma Luge".
It hasn't been an easy run for Anne.
Not to confuse Olympic events, but there have been hurdles along the way. Knee operations, serious illnesses, financial struggles, difficulty obtaining track time for training, a lost sled, and a hurricane that destroyed her St. Thomas home have presented significant challenges.
But perhaps her greatest test came in January of 2001. She was competing in Germany. The ice was hard, and as she came down the track she remembers having a "fairly good run." Then came curve 13. Her foot came down and she went into a skid, hitting the wall just going into the curve. Her head hit the roof of the track, cracking her helmet. At the bottom of the run her sled appeared, minus its driver. Then Anne slid out, head first, unconscious.
She had suffered a closed head injury, and experienced numerous seizures on a daily basis. The doctors told her three things: 1) she would never drive a car, 2) she would take medication all her life, and, 3) nothing could be done.
Anne had different ideas. She told the doctors she had to be seizure free by June 15th. She wasn't done competing.
Now, the recipient of innovative therapy and brain re-training techniques, Anne is entering her 5th Olympics, competing for the U.S. Virgin Islands. And she's just glad to be there. "I'm not where I want to be, "she says, "But I'm where I'm supposed to be. I've done everything I've been able to do. I'm not in top shape, but it's a miracle I'm even there."
Regardless of where she finishes in Salt Lake City, Anne is a celebration of accomplishment. With a degree in Performing Arts from American University in Washington, D.C., Anne pursued a career in entertainment, singing her way up and down the East Coast.
In fact, the first time Anne saw the Luge, while on a ski trip in Lake Placid, NY, she was a performer. She had gone to Lake Placid with friends, and followed the signs to what she phonetically pronounced as Loogie. A sled went by and she was intrigued. "I thought, Wow, I'd really like to do that'", Anne now recalls.
The U.S. Coach was there, and asked if anyone in Anne's group of friends would like to try the Luge. "I was 27", Anne says, "And I wanted to do it, but I had two years of bookings I needed to honor."
Two years later, the Luge portion of Anne's life began. And it took over. "I lived and breathed Luge," she says. "Everything I did was just for Luge. It reached a point where I lost what my focus should be. And I decided to give it up. My sled had been lost in transit. The race week began, and I still didn't have a sled. I analyzed and reviewed things, and realized it had taken over my life. I gave my life over to the Lord, and said, I'll give it all up if You want.' The next day my sled arrived."
Now, the joy is what moves Anne to continue her Luge competition. "I'm having a blast. I wish I was on the track all the time. I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. I have traveled all over the world, and although I'm not at home, in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, as much as I would like - whenever I'm there, my soul is at peace."
In the 1994 Olympics, in Lillehammer, Anne was perched at the start of her run. She took a deep breath, looked at the beauty of the surroundings, and whispered, "Lord, You've brought me this far. Why don't You come along for the ride?"
And what a ride it's been. Over hurdles, around obstacles, through illness, Anne has persevered. "I don't always accept a no' at first. When there's an obstacle, I focus on getting around it, but I don't let it stop me."