Grandma Luge real inspiration

TURIN -- She's known as Grandma Luge, and she came to the Winter Games to make history. Again.

Instead, she experienced what feels like the biggest setback of her life -- and that's saying something.

Anne Abernathy is the only athlete here representing the Virgin Islands.

Chances are, she's the only one who has lost one home to a hurricane and is about to lose another to the cold, hard reality of life as an amateur athlete.

It's probably safe to say she's also the only one who has defied modern medicine, not once, but twice. But nothing is going to get her out of the cast and sling she's wearing after a crash during a training run Sunday.

Abernathy has overcome more adversity than most of us have even read about. But this is downright cruel.

In a decision Sunday night, after a crash that left her with a broken wrist and a separated shoulder, officials determined she wouldn't be allowed to race.

Despite her injuries, she still wanted to drag her battered body on to a sled and slide into the history books as the first woman over 50 to compete in a Winter Games.

"It's my heart that hurts more than anything else," Abernathy, 52, told the Sun from the athletes' village at Sestriere yesterday.

Abernathy's is the kind of story that boggles the mind. Not many people could go through all this and keep not only their sanity, but a rosy outlook. Job comes to mind.

"I never wonder 'Why me?' " she said. "Self-pity doesn't get anybody anywhere. I'm a fighter."

She certainly had to be after doctors told her in 1986 she had lymphatic cancer. At the time, she had her sights set on making her first Olympics, in Calgary, two years later.

"I was told I wasn't going to live that long," Abernathy said. "I told the doctors, 'I need to focus on getting to the Olympics -- your job is to make me well.' "

So Abernathy kept at the sport she'd fallen in love with during a ski trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., and kept her illness a secret.

She didn't even tell her family.

"This was before the days of Lance Armstrong," she said. "I could not let anyone know. At that time, anybody who had AIDS or cancer was believed to be damaged goods."

Two years later, she was the Virgin Islands' first Olympian.

Abernathy turned 40 when she received her nickname. Competing against people half her age, she would eventually crack the top 20 world rankings.

It was at a World Cup race in Germany, in 2001, when Grandma Luge nearly lost her life on the track.

After losing control of her sled going into a curve, Abernathy's head struck the top of the track, cracking her helmet and knocking her unconscious. For 20 minutes, she lay on the track, blacked out.

Doctors told her she'd have seizures the rest of her life. Of course, this wouldn't do. Salt Lake City was a year away.

"I don't always take no for the ultimate answer," Abernathy said.

Neurobiofeedback therapy helped her recover. With electrodes attached to her head, doctors helped Abernathy retrain her brain by having her play game-like computer simulations using only her brain waves.

The procedure worked, and at Salt Lake City she became the oldest woman to compete at the Olympics.

Fast forward to 2006.

By now, Abernathy's career has left her with a six-figure debt. The fact her business partner was crooked -- receiving jail time for an embezzlement conviction -- didn't help.

Thanks to donations, Abernathy was able to march into the opening ceremony. At that moment, Abernathy wasn't thinking about the fact she'd be forced to sell her house in St. Thomas when she got home.

"It's not so much what it means to me," she said. "It's what it means to women over 50 everywhere."

This was to have been her last race. A chance to say goodbye to the sport to which she has devoted 25 years.

But she was able to see the positives.

"I've already won, because I'm here," she said. "Some people look at it as adversity. I look at it as a challenge.

"Life after luge," she said, contemplating the thought for the first time. "I'm sure it's out there, because there was life before it."