The comeback kid: After a devastating accident, Anna Beninati finds happiness

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

After several minutes alone, she called to her family to join her, and she recalled for them the events of that day — This is where I started running. This is where I jumped. This is where I was lying.

As they prepared to leave, she saw an old metal railroad spike adjacent to the track. She picked it up and slipped it into her pocket. "Maybe I was looking for closure for myself, or maybe deeper acceptance," she would say months later. "It helped."

"It was cathartic for all of us," says Debbie. "I think it's something she's going to have to revisit again — probably several times."

During the ceremony to honor Longmont firemen, Anna charmed everyone by getting out on the floor during the dance hour and dancing in her chair. "When I had legs, I didn't dance," she told her mom later. "Now I get out there every chance I get."

That's symbolic, if nothing else. By all accounts, she has embraced life more fully since her accident, as evidenced by the whirlwind schedule of activities she maintains.

"Weirdly enough, I am much happier now than I was with legs," she says. "I tell people that all the time."

The eating disorder is cured. The day after her accident, she wouldn't eat, but the next day she decided that was the end of anorexia. She began eating and has never relapsed. "I decided I've suffered enough," she says. "This (the accident) fixed the eating disorder."

When she returned to her old friends, she recalls, "They were shocked at how positive I was." It is difficult to reconcile this bubbly, giggly Anna with the pre-accident character she and her mother describe. Thinking of this for a moment, Anna says, "The way I am now is how I was supposed to be. This is the real me."

"I would have to agree," says Debbie. "I just think she has this focus now. You know the things that teenagers worry about and think about that adults would say aren't things you have to worry about? Well, she grew out of that really fast on Sept. 5th. Everything that didn't matter became clear to her."

There are still moments of wistfulness. One day she was in Liberty Park, training hand cyclists, when she spied a four-leaf clover. She made a wish that her legs would grow back. "But they didn't," she sighs. "I would give anything to be able to stand up and walk again. I miss that."

She will soon get her wish. She is being fitted for prosthetics. Anna presents a special challenge for therapists — she doesn't have knees, and there is so little remaining of the left leg that there is almost nothing to attach to a prosthetic (eventually, they might place a screw in the bottom of what remains of the femur and attach the artificial limb that way). For now, she will learn to walk with a prosthetic right leg and crutches.

"I'm so excited," she says. "I was told by my therapist to bring a pair of tennis shoes next week! They asked me what height I was before the accident and what my shoe size was. That makes it so real."

Anna's state of mind, as she looks ahead, is best summed up by her mother: "She has goals," says Debbie. "She has direction."

Anna aspires to work with autistic children through music and is engaged in school, a rigorous schedule and a personal life. She has a boyfriend — "He can pick me up with one arm and the wheelchair with the other," she says brightly. She has resumed a playful relationship with her family, which gives her no special treatment. Gabe has been known to steal her chair and race across the room in it. "I have to get on the floor and chase him like a demented gorilla," says Anna, who wrestles with her little brother, using her right leg as a club "to hit him on the head with." Mary announced one day to her sister that she had named Anna's legs — Harrison (left) and Rafael (right).

"She and her sister have this wicked sense of humor," says Debbie. "No-leg jokes are flying everywhere."

Looking back, Anna regrets her loss, but notes, "The rewards are totally worth it. I'm fitter and healthier now that I ever was. I'm doing things I never thought I would do."

Says Debbie, "The one time she does something truly rebellious, she train hops. Think of all the kids who do this and get away with it. But I say look where she is now. And she's actually better off. And she's impacting life. She's not just sitting around."

Email: drob@desnews.com

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