Vale Anna Wellings Booth OAM

Anna. My courageous, compassionate, humorous and all round simply amazing friend is with us no more.

I received this news on Friday afternoon here in Ecija. The message pinged onto my phone as I was waiting for my class of students to arrive so I really didn’t have the opportunity to properly absorb the news. I was shocked and the next 4 hours of my classes passed in a kind of blur.

Anna had been on my mind a lot lately and it was only last week that I emailed saying I hoped she was well and not laid up in the hospital with some ailment or other.

You see Anna has had all kinds of issues with her health but she never let them stop her doing what she wanted – at least not until more recently.

Anna used to tell me her ailments were a result of a ‘life well lived’ – she had a great sense of adventure and was game for almost anything. Anna was resilient and always bounced back from whatever ailed her.

Anna was a do-er and could get almost anything done.

She had the great knack of being able to charm people and gently persuade them to do things they perhaps had not exactly planned to do. A case in point being that very first Field of Women that was planted in Canberra back in 1998 and then the establishment of Dragons Abreast ACT a year later.

Anna and I shared many memorable moments and experiences together over the years. We laughed and we cried together many times over the last 16 years – mostly we laughed.

Some of my standout memories are:

  • the trip to Niagra on the Lake where we stayed in a little B &B, sat out in the garden with a picnic and squirrels scampering around us as we dreamt of bringing the story of Dragons Abreast into print,
  • Anna tearing her hair out in Caloundra as she (wo)manned the phones and coordinated buses for 2000 pink paddlers.

My most recent memory was a visit to Canberra when I was there for the Lifeline Conference earlier this year.

I had very limited time so asked Anna if she would like to perhaps meet for breakfast at my hotel. In response, I received an email saying she’d love breakfast but was in the hospital so could I go there instead.

So at 7 am on a cold, wet Canberra morning, when it was really a bit too early for visitors, Anna and I sat in the hospital corridor and exchanged news for an hour and a half before I had to dash away for the start of the conference. That was the last time I would see my dear friend.

Anna was one of a kind

She always had a twinkle in her eye, was big of heart, wonderful with words, a diplomat and an inspiration to all who knew her.

Anna never complained instead she just rolled up her sleeves, stuck her tongue out to one side if she was concentrating, grabbed her walking stick and off she went!

I am so privileged to have been able to call her my friend. I am a better person for having known Anna – she was one of very special lady and there are no words that can adequately describe this amazing woman who was a wife, a mother, an advocate for causes she believed in, a gentle guiding hand, a wise counsellor, and an inspiration to many and an all-round incredible, irreplaceable, fantastic person who enjoyed a glass of red wine.

Anna, rest in peace now.

Thank you for friendship, inspiration and support – you’ll live in my heart forever.

Love

Michelle

 

A wonderful world……..thank you Abreast In A Boat

What a wonderful surprise it was last night to walk into Ca’de Ven (an amazing local wine bar) and hear a voice yell out “Michelle. Michelle Hanton”- I turned around and there was Cheryl Watson coming towards me along with Juanita Pegler. It is almost seven years since we last saw each other. We had no idea we were all going to be in Ravenna so it was a delight to catch up with these amazing women whom I first met in 2002 when I put together the Internationally Abreast (IA) team for the World Club Crews being held in Rome. Juanita and Cheryl along with Deb Thiessen and Linda Acosta were the Abreast In A Boat representatives from Vancouver.

IA team members - Rome 2002 reunited in Ravenna 2014
IA team members from Rome 2002 reunited in Ravenna 2014 – Juanita, Michelle & Cheryl

It was soooo fantastic to see the girls again. We hugged and reminisced about those early days and that incredible time we had in Rome. It was also where I met Donna Leon, as she was there to film our journey for her program They’ve Got Game – Water Works.

The world of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors has changed so much since those early days but the friendships made by those of us who were pioneers remain strong. It’s funny that in the last 2 months I’ve also had a reunion with Elspeth Humphries – who was also in the IA boat in Rome – she swept the 2000 metre race – first time a breast cancer survivor crew took on that race – and today it is so common place for survivor crews to compete and indeed, to do well, in these races. Janelle Gamble, another of our Internationally Abreast originals will also be here but this time as an IDBF official and I will be sweep for the Waterfront Warriors team.

If it was not for breast cancer and Abreast In A Boat I would not be sitting here today writing this bog. Funny how the darkest moments in our lives can turn into some of the very best opportunities. As they saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have to say, based on what has happened in my life, this is most certainly true.  Before signing off this blog I also want to make a special mention and say, I always remember with great affection, two special women who have lost their battle with breast cancer, Sandy Smith from Abreast In A Boat who was a guiding light in setting up Dragons Abreast in Australia, and of course the unforgettable Orlanda Capelli who became our drummer in Rome and the then went on to establish the first Italian breast cancer survivor team.

Michelle