Annabelle taking life's setbacks in her stride

By Sandra Simpson
She looks like a regular cycle postie - fit-looking and healthy in her red and black uniform and trainers. So it's easy to overlook Annabelle Thom's artificial leg.
That's right, an artificial leg. And yes, she rides a bike to deliver the mail. But perhaps most impressive of all is that a smile never seems to be far from Annabelle's face.
While Mark Inglis has gone further, much further, than anyone could reasonably expect a double amputee to go in conquering Mt Everest last month, Annabelle is - in her modest way - just as great an advertisement for the strength of human spirit in bouncing back from adversity.
In 1983, aged in her early 20s and mother to two young sons, Annabelle had a horse-riding accident in Waihi. The animal bolted and she made the decision to jump before she was thrown.
"I had on the wrong shoes and landed on my ankle really badly, effectively smashing it."
A series of operations followed, including the removal of some bones and Annabelle was left with "virtually no ankle".
"I had to walk on tippy-toes all the time on that foot, I couldn't wear shoes properly and it was quite painful, especially in winter."
The decision was taken - more by the surgeons Annabelle recalls though she harbours no apparent bitterness - to remove her left leg below the knee.
"When you're in pain it wears you down a lot, but I'm not pain-free without the leg, either. There's constant discomfort and pain and your legs never fit you 100 per cent."
But after prolonged stays in hospital, first in Thames, then in Waikato, Annabelle wanted to return to being a wife and mother.
"It was hard because I couldn't do everything with the boys that I wanted - I was on crutches a lot and in and out of hospital.

But I was into my leg as soon as I could and it fitted right off."
These days she has a shiny green and silver titanium leg with a foot that has movement. The leg itself springs when she steps and has "quite a good" cushion of fibreglass against her limb, she says.
"I used to have an old-style leg, one that was real-looking, and people never noticed.
"You can get them now with real-looking feet and toes. They reckon they're made only for women so they can paint the nails."
On her delivery route, which takes in half of Katikati's urban area, Annabelle finds nothing but support from people she encounters.
"Young children are always the first to notice and they like to touch it. I don't mind, they're only being curious.
"A lot of older people will come up to me and say that they think I'm marvellous but to me it's just normal.
"I'm always so busy - my postie route has just grown and grown with the town and we've got a small avocado orchard - so to me I'm just going about my normal life."
At the time of her accident, Annabelle was just beginning to enjoy running and says that was something that she did miss - but since getting on a bicycle she has rediscovered that sense of freedom and speed.
"When I get going and get on quite a good speed it gives me that same sense of euphoria that runners have."
She wears a thick cotton sock over her knee and a silicone sheath holds the artificial leg on - a big advance, she says.
"The old legs were horrible. I stepped out of mine a few times and hit the deck. You don't realise you've left it behind until you come to take the next step."
And this petite, quietly-spoken woman rocks back in her chair with laughter at the memory.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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