Kiwi running legend Anne Audain says living in America during the pandemic is frustrating and nerve-racking. She can't wait to return to Aotearoa.
The former 5000m world record holder, three-time Olympian and Commonwealth gold medallist in the 3000m became New Zealand's most successful road runner after reconstructive surgery on both feet for congenital bone deformities.
Anne had the operations at age 13 and joined an athletics club a year later.
I'm lucky to know Anne through our running club, Mount Maunganui Runners and Walkers. She has been a member for seven or eight years and used to run with us each year when she visited - until the pandemic slammed the door on travel.
Anne's ties to the Bay spans decades. She and her family used to travel from Auckland to holiday at Mount Maunganui. Her running coach brought the team here for rest and recovery. She still owns a home in Auckland and would love to sell it so she can buy at the Mount.
But Anne's Kiwi dreams are on hold. She doesn't expect to travel to New Zealand with her American husband, Chuck, until 2023, when she hopes MIQ will be in the rearview mirror.
"We can't do the quarantine. With both of us so active, it would drive us crazy being in a hotel room for two weeks."
Achieving champion status takes heaps of grit and hard graft. Today, Anne faces another challenge - enduring the chaos created when people refuse vaccinations. Anne has lived in the United States for the past 40 years.
She and Chuck are in Indiana, where only 49 per cent of people ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In her state and many others, hospitals have been turned into Covid wards full of unvaccinated patients.
Anne says, "People need to understand how dire it is here. God help you if you are in a car accident or your child has been badly injured."
She mentions a 12-year-old who had appendicitis and nearly died. Seth Osborn arrived at a Florida emergency room overflowing with unvaccinated Covid-19 patients in late July. He waited more than six hours and his appendix burst. Thankfully, he survived. His father described the trauma on Twitter, ending his message with "... your decision to not vaccinate does affect others".
Another Covid heartache involved a bride-to-be. The 29-year-old Kentucky woman was unvaccinated because she had been hesitant after hearing false claims the vaccine caused infertility. She got Covid and spent what would have been her wedding day on a ventilator before she died.
These and countless other examples of preventable deaths are weighing on the minds of Anne and others caught in Covid's crosshairs.
"Our healthcare [in the US] has become political and our health should never, ever be political," Anne says. "That's the saddest part of what has happened here. It's an us-against-them mentality and so many states aren't even at 50 per cent vaccination."
She implores Kiwis to avoid America's dismal example. "New Zealand is a tiny country with a small population. We don't need to go down the road of the nasty comments and disinformation that the US has gone down."
Running and walking in her Evansville neighbourhood, Anne is aware of everyone's stance on vaccinations.
"You know the ones you can speak with more openly and the ones where you can't open your mouth or you'll end up having a miserable day. I just start talking to the dogs."
For the second year in a row due to the pandemic, Anne has missed an annual women's fitness event she founded in Idaho. Today, it is run by St Luke's Health System. She recently shared a video on social media of the hospital's chief executive saying their facility was swamped with record numbers of Covid patients, 98 per cent of whom were unvaccinated.
"We are being absolutely crushed by Covid," he said.
Idaho has implemented 'crisis' standards of hospital care, meaning healthcare is given to patients who are most likely to survive.
I agree with Anne when she says there's no logic behind people's arguments when they refuse the vaccine but are happy to take animal dewormer and monoclonal antibodies.
"They'll say, 'I don't trust the scientists. My body, my choice, but boy, if I get sick I want those same scientists and doctors to cure me.' That's the part that makes you so frustrated and lose patience because it doesn't make sense," Anne says.
The 66-year-old and her husband are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. She applauds NZME's 90% Project, which aims to see at least 90 per cent of New Zealand's eligible population fully vaccinated by Christmas.
"That would be amazing," she says.
Anne was proud of Kiwis last year when they came together to eliminate the virus. She believes we can leap this next hurdle if we maintain the same community spirit.
Anne says there's only one way to return to some kind of normal - vaccination.
"We've got to knock this sucker out. If we don't, it'll come back and hit us like a sledgehammer again."