Feb. 1, 2006 — When the athletes march into the Feb. 10 opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, the Virgin Islands contingent will include the V.I.'s only competing athlete — luger Anne Abernathy.
For folks not in the know about winter sports, a luge is a sled that carries one or two people, called singles or doubles, downhill at great speed. The competitors lie on their back on top of the sled.
This will be the sixth Olympics for Abernathy, who is now in Italy getting ready for the games.
Over the years, she's placed high up in the standings at numerous world-class events.
"She's been selected by NBC to be one of the four athletes that they focus on," Abernathy supporter Judy Grybowski said Wednesday.
She said the television station selected Abernathy because of her age — she's 52. Grybowski said she's the oldest woman to participate in the winter Olympics, a designation that got her a place in the Guinness World Records book. Her Web site is aptly named www.grandmaluge.com.
Many times injured, Grybowski said Abernathy recovered from a 2001 head injury by playing computer games.
Grybowski said that Abernathy operates on a shoestring budget, depending on contributions from family, friends and groups, including the St. Thomas chapter of the Red Hat Society.
"She's the spokesperson for the Red Hat Society," Grybowski said.
Her Web site blog provides insight into the difficulties that come with finding financial assistance.
"With no money to make through the month and still no supplier for Olympic uniforms, it looks like I'll be limping to the games, if I get there at all. It's hard for me to imagine that I've come so far and am on the verge of making Olympic history and still may not be able to make it to the games," she wrote on Jan. 6.
Grybowski said that Abernathy has non-profit status in the Virgin Islands, where she lived for some of her childhood. Grybowski said at one point, Abernathy had a house on St. Thomas, and still has ties to that island.
Grybowski said that to facilitate training, she lives in Virginia.
She said that before taking up the luge, she was a professional singer who worked in commercials.
Hans Lawaetz, president of the V.I. Olympic Committee, said that he, secretary general Angel L. Morales and committee member Leonard W. Bonelli Sr. will attend the games.
Lawaetz said Bonnelli will become acting president because Lawaetz is the chef de mission — the person in charge of the Virgin Islands delegation.
He said the International Olympic Committee funds the entire contingent's trip and anted up $9,000 for Abernathy's participation.
Lawaetz said that Abernathy's winter Olympic participation helps generate enthusiasm.
"People see that if they train, they can go," Lawaetz said.
According to the NBC Olympic Web site, the Virgin Islands made its winter Olympic debut in 1984 when speed skater Erroll Fraser competed.
In subsequent years, the territory sent bobsled teams, a downhill skier and in 2002, Abernathy and fellow luger Dinah Brown. Brown finished last, with Abernathy coming in two spots ahead in 26th place.
For more about Abernathy, see the Source profile on her published in September 2005.
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