On September 21st I met up with Anne at the Costa coffee shop in Harlow.
I have no experience of either being with or working with someone who uses a wheelchair and felt a little uneasy about my inexperience, but within minutes the chair became completely removed from any considerations. This was down to Anne’s amazing approach to life, she’s like a breath of fresh air, and as able bodied as the next person.
We chatted about our sons, both born in 2001, about how difficult they have both found the transfer into junior school and how change is so hard when you are young.
Anne explained how pregnancy works for someone with no stomach muscles – her tummy just wobbled from side to side with babies movements. The medical profession wern’t happy with Anne’s pregancy, they worried about her health and the health of the baby.
Anne contracted polio when she was just two and a half. She was born in Kenya and is one of a large family, two of her eldest siblings died, one of aids. Her mother died when the children where very young and her father took over the task of raising his brood whilst working as a soldier.
She had to travel many miles to attend a special school and she tells me of a time when her father had to put her on the school bus, meet it at the other end and install her in a small clock tower whilst shooting and fighting carried on around her. She stood in her calipers in the tiny space from early in the morning until late afternoon, soaked in her own urine and petrified, able to see through a small gap the horror around her.
We are briefly interupted by another athlete who has popped in for a coffee and stops to chat to Anne. He is a marathon runner and has a visual impairment. They talk about the Great North run and Anne’s recent injury.
We talk a little more and I discover Anne was sponsored by a German family who almost ended up adopting her when Anne’s father didn’t turn up to collect her from school at the end of term one year. He was in the bush working and couldn’t get to the school, the school thought he had decided he couldn’t cope with all his children and had left her there.
Anne spent a couple of weeks alone in the school not knowing what was to happen to her. The school contacted the German family who agreed to adopt Anne but before the papers were drawn up Anne’s father turned up to take her home. She still keeps in touch with the family and would love to meet them.
We arrange to meet the next week at one of Anne’s training grounds and I leave wanting to keep Anne in my pocket as a reminder of what life is all about……