Anne “Grandma Luge” Abernathy Aims at Another Olympics

Anne Abernathy, ’75, has already made history as the oldest female athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. Now she’s hoping to go back for round seven, this time to the Summer Games for archery.

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Anne Abernathy didn’t take the most conventional route to becoming a six-time Olympian in luge. She began her career at age 30 and competed in the sport until she was 53. Now at 60, the athlete many call “Grandma Luge” has another dream: qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in archery.

Abernathy first got a taste of archery as a UT student in the early ’70s. She attended UT on a music scholarship and chose archery for her physical education class.

“I absolutely loved it,” Abernathy says. “I was tempted to pursue archery further, but my mother would’ve killed me.”

In 1975, Abernathy left UT to care for her ailing mother in her home on the U.S. Virgin Islands. She eventually graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in music, and worked as a professional vocalist for years. She never considered competing in any sport until she took a vacation to Lake Placid, New York in the ’80s.

There, while watching the U.S. bobsled team practice, she saw a sign that said “This way to Luge.” Having had no experience with the sport, she mistakenly pronounced it “lou-gee” until corrected by the coach of the U.S. National Team.

Abernathy luge“He turned to the group and asked us if we all wanted to try it, and instead 18 people took a step back and I was the slow one who was left out in front, but I thought ‘why not?'” she says. After her first ride, she was hooked.

“That same day, the coach asked me if I wanted to stay the season at the Olympic Training Center and train with the team,” Abernathy says. “I thought, ‘How many times am I going to be asked to do this?’ having no idea it would change my life.”

That decision was the beginning of a record-breaking luge career that included six Winter Olympics representing the U.S. Virgin Islands. She remains the oldest female athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics, a title she’s proud to hold.

Along the way, Abernathy has battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a brain injury, dozens of broken bones—and more than a few doubters. Far from dissuading her, skeptics only fuel her competitive spirit, she says.

“If you tell me I can’t, I’m going to show you I can,” she says.

Abernathy retired from luge in 2006. But her competitive side resurfaced last year, when she decided to write a book series on the Summer Olympics, including qualifying information about each sport. As she began work on the archery section, she was intrigued.

“I just could not get it out of my mind and I loved it at UT,” she says. “I thought, ‘I bet I could do that.'”

Surprisingly, she soon discovered that years of conditioning for luge gave her an important advantage in archery.

“Once I picked up a bow, I realized it was all about using the trap muscles in your back,” she says. “Those are the exact same muscles I used in luge. You steer the sled with your shoulders and back. I didn’t have to go through the steps of training my body to use those muscles; I had been using them for years.”

Now Abernathy is training with a coach and raising the money she will need to compete in the 2015 World Championships. She’s also put together medical and marketing teams. She has two years to train and prepare for the World Championships, where she will try to land one of the 36 available archery spots for individual athletes in the 2016 Olympics. It’s a daunting challenge, but she’s not exactly new to those.

“I’m trying to cram into two years what takes others six to eight years,” she says. “I know the dedication that is required to make the Olympics,” Abernathy says. “I don’t see any reason why I can’t.”


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