“You make a choice in daily life,” Anne Hjelle said. “Will I be upset and angry about something, or put a road-block up on that mental path and go the other way to be positive and really live life instead?”
Many hearing Anne’s story might think she has a right to be upset and angry about what happened to her, but she is quick to tell you otherwise.
“I don’t dwell on what’s gone wrong, but on what’s gone right instead,” Anne continued. “It’s a miracle I survived. I didn’t ask God ‘Why?” Instead I ask, ‘What do I do with my life now that I’ve been given a second chance?’”
Eight years ago Anne was attacked by a mountain lion while mountain biking in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park with her friend Debi Nicholis. The animal’s fangs punctured her neck 40 times, barely missing her spinal cord, carotid and other vital arteries. It required more than 200 stitches and staples to piece her mangled face together and she has had seven reconstructive surgeries so far. It is a miracle that she is alive and can see out of both eyes. Anne will speak on ‘Faith, Friendship and Fearlessness’ at Concordia College at 7 p.m. tonight as part of Orange County Christian Outreach week.
“I’m really excited about Anne sharing her powerful story,” explained Newport resident Pamela Curry, chairman of Orange County Christian Outreach. “God has orchestrated another year of amazing speakers. We have 20 events, and Anne’s is one we knew would draw so many people that we couldn’t hold it in a home.”
“Orange County Christian Outreach week is about ordinary people telling extraordinary stories of what Jesus Christ has done in their lives, how He has changed their lives, and for many, how He has been with them in tragedies,” Pamela continued. “Anne is a perfect example of that.”
Anne’s story begins when she went on a mountain bike ride with Debi, a friend she originally met in Trail Angels, a mountain biking group for women.
“She and I were kindred spirits and we went on our own rides frequently,” Anne said. “The ride started out like any other, but a minute and a half later I was blindsided and attacked by a mountain lion. Its jaws had a vice-like grip on my face and I knew that my life was in serious danger. My first instinct was to cry out ‘Jesus, help me.’ It was a deliberate cry for help. Debi came down the trail shortly afterwards and saw the lion on top of me, dragging me by the head.”
“If it hadn’t been for Debi, I’d be dead,” Anne continued. “Debi risked her life for me. She has four adult children and her mothering instinct took over. She didn’t pause to think, and she just jumped in immediately and fought the lion in a brutal tug-of-war. Part of the reason people are so drawn to my story is what Debi did. Someone sacrificing for another person is so incredible. It’s easy to be selfish in this world and just look out for yourself. When I felt that I was at the end of my life, I knew Debi had done everything she could. Instead of feeling fear, I had a sense of peace that only comes from God. I sensed God’s presence.”
Anne also sensed God’s presence when she returned to mountain bike riding, and prayed that He would help her not be controlled by fear. She feels that many people live in fear of something, and wants to encourage people to overcome fear by facing it.
“I had to pray my way through my ride and it gradually got easier,” she explained.
“After my first time back mountain biking, I saw someone on a motorized wheelchair and realized how fortunate I was to be able to ride at all. I have disfiguring facial features, but I can still do things I love; very little has changed.”
Anne is more fearful of speaking in front of people than mountain bike riding, though her media appearances and interviews include “Larry King Live,” “Good Morning America,” “20/20,” The Discovery Channel, People magazine, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and many more.
“Public speaking isn’t easy for me, but I know there is a purpose in it and God wants to use it,” Anne explained. “I don’t like attention, but this is a great opportunity to share how God can work something good through anything, even through someone like me who is terrified of speaking in front of people.”
Anne Hielle will speak tonight – Friday, March 23 – at 7 p.m. in DeNault Auditorium, 1530 Concordia, Irvine 92612. For more information on Orange County Christian Outreach, go to http://www.outreachweek.org/. Cindy can be reached at [email protected].