Aged 16, Annabelle watched a Disney program about horse masters courses in England. Already horse-mad, she set about convincing her parents to let her ditch high school, fly to London and attend the course as a working pupil. When they finally relented, she had three days to pack her bags. Then she spent two years with 14 other students, looking after 150 horses at the riding school.
Next came cooking, “I decided I’d go to Austria and work one winter season. I worked as a kitchen hand in a hotel, and decided I really loved cooking so ended up going back to London to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.”
Eventually returning to Sydney to live with her parents - who were big entertainers - she’d prepare elaborate three-course dinners for their friends, doing catering jobs to earn money.
Her next interest surfaced after she got married and bought an old house with a big outdoor area. “Gardening… I’d read all the books, I had friends up the road and we used to talk in botanical names and spend all day in the garden.” That led to a job at a local garden centre, designing people’s backyards. She even got her truck licence so could do deliveries and drive the Bobcat.
“My whole life has gone through phases of passions,” Annabelle says. “I’ve never really had a career but I’ve had lots of different jobs relating to my interests.”
Her husband was influential in another passion: property. He worked in real estate and they bought and sold properties together. This infected her with the property investment bug: her main source of income to this day.
She kept on gardening though, until the 2002 drought killed most of her plants. Enter her subsequent and current passion – fencing – discovered when dropping her son off at his fencing club.
“It reminded me of watching the Olympics when I was younger, and thinking it looked like fun and I should give it a try. And I did, and I loved it – I wish I’d found it earlier,” Annabelle says. She was 47 at the time.
Unlike going to the gym, which she’d always found boring, fencing was fun. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re fencing for in a night… you just don’t ever really want to stop.”
A mixture of precision skills and tactics, fencing is similar to tennis: you observe your opponent, try to work out their strengths and weaknesses, and then play to their weaknesses – hoping they don’t find too many of yours.
Annabelle trains two to three times a week with her coach, focusing on technical skills. She also bouts (plays matches) at her local club. “Bouting is where you try new things, learn what works for you and add to your repertoire. There aren’t a lot of women my age who fence at the club so I mostly fence against men which is good because men can be a lot quicker than women,” she says.
Having already won national-level gold, silver and bronze, this year she’s heading to the World Veterans Fencing Championships in Germany.
Her introduction to the championships was in 2007 in Sydney. “It was so exciting. There were people from all over the world… Everyone was so supportive and I just loved it so much I thought this is what I want to do for as long as I possibly can.”
She’s been every year since, to various exotic European locations, treating it as her annual holiday – as much as possible, given her medal-winning imperative. “On four occasions I’ve made the quarter finals, but I just need to go one more round to get a medal,” she says.
Though she’ll never have the technical skills of some other competitors, many having fenced since teenagers, her secret weapon is fitness.
“I try to use my fitness against people. If I can run them around the strip and tire them out, then their skills drop off a bit.” Not a bad secret weapon, for a 61-year-old.
Alongside Annabelle’s medal mission is her financial mission: to get in a reasonably sound financial position so she’s set up for retirement. She was already 45 when compulsory super was introduced, since then she’s only worked sporadically in regular jobs so her balance is relatively low. She has her properties though, which she’s always considered her potential retirement fund.
“Younger people nowadays have super, and I think it’s wonderful,” she says. “If I’d had it from the age that people start now, it would be great. I think it’s possibly a good idea to contribute more so it’s growing for your retirement.”
And if she has to retire from fencing for some reason? Chances are there’s another passion waiting to be discovered.
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