Athletics a refuge for Lebanon High senior coping with trauma of abuse

Clockwise from center, Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, talks with her teammates junior Carson Boardman, sophomore Joshua Jordan, junior Abigail Stone, junior Caleb Jordan and junior Toms Linkaits before crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation at Kendal Riverfront Park in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Numme started attending Lebanon High School this year after taking classes at a community college her junior year, and found her footing quickly through sports like wrestling and rowing. “This is my favorite school so far,” she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Clockwise from center, Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, talks with her teammates junior Carson Boardman, sophomore Joshua Jordan, junior Abigail Stone, junior Caleb Jordan and junior Toms Linkaits before crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation at Kendal Riverfront Park in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Numme started attending Lebanon High School this year after taking classes at a community college her junior year, and found her footing quickly through sports like wrestling and rowing. “This is my favorite school so far,” she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus photos

Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., rows down the Connecticut River with her team during crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Numme received a rowing scholarship to the University of Rhode Island where she will start in the fall. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., rows down the Connecticut River with her team during crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Numme received a rowing scholarship to the University of Rhode Island where she will start in the fall. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From front, Caroline Horak, 17, Anna Numme, 18, Georgia Gaffney, 14, and Owen Robb, 17, row down the Connecticut River with the guidance of coxswain Elizabeth Canaverel, 17, during crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From front, Caroline Horak, 17, Anna Numme, 18, Georgia Gaffney, 14, and Owen Robb, 17, row down the Connecticut River with the guidance of coxswain Elizabeth Canaverel, 17, during crew practice with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., works out after class in the school’s weight room in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Numme works out on her own early in the morning and also takes a weightlifting class at school, which she says is a supportive environment that gives her the opportunity to help coach younger students. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., works out after class in the school’s weight room in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Numme works out on her own early in the morning and also takes a weightlifting class at school, which she says is a supportive environment that gives her the opportunity to help coach younger students. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., works out after class in the school’s weight room in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Numme holds the girls’ top spot, both current and overall, for bench pressing 160 lbs. and squatting 260 lbs. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High School senior Anna Numme, 18, of Plainfield, N.H., works out after class in the school’s weight room in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Numme holds the girls’ top spot, both current and overall, for bench pressing 160 lbs. and squatting 260 lbs. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

Anna Numme

Anna Numme —Tris Wykes

Anna Numme, center, is joined by her mother, Pam Numme, and uncle, Donn Cann during her University of Rhode Island rowing scholarship announcement on April 21, 2023, at Lebanon High in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Anna Numme, center, is joined by her mother, Pam Numme, and uncle, Donn Cann during her University of Rhode Island rowing scholarship announcement on April 21, 2023, at Lebanon High in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-06-2023 4:56 PM

A long struggle culminated in a difficult choice for Anna Numme in September 2021.

About to begin her junior year of high school, Numme decided she could no longer live in Claremont with her mother, Pam. The two were reeling from the trauma of what they describe as years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by a male relative.

Pam, a licensed nursing assistant, arrived home from an overnight shift at 8 a.m. to find her brother, retired firefighter Donn Cann, waiting outside her Roberts Hill Road house. He said Anna had asked to live with him for the foreseeable future.

Pam was saddened but not surprised. She was working full time and taking a pair of nursing classes, all while dealing with her own trauma.

“She didn’t have time to take care of me,” Anna said. “She was functioning on four hours sleep a night and there was unhealthy tension between us. I needed a more emotionally stable household, and my uncle is a very calm person who could cook me meals and help me with homework.”

Said Pam: “I was struggling just to choose to live. The emotional pain was beyond anything I can even begin to express; grief that literally made it hard to breathe.”

As painful as that day was, mother and daughter have since worked at healing.

Later this week, Anna Numme is scheduled to graduate as a standout student-athlete at Lebanon High, where, in less than a year, she’s impressed teachers with her work ethic and intellect.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Claremont business owners balk at special assessment for Washington Street paving
After Vermont bear video goes viral, officials warn that such encounters aren’t harmless
Police: Charlestown man armed with steak knives and high on bath salts broke into Newport home
Dangerous heat to linger in Upper Valley for days
Longtime Sullivan County prosecutor won’t seek reelection
Enfield Zoning Board to consider appeals to housing project approval

Government teacher Gregory Stoloski said Numme’s curiosity and confidence allow her to encourage engagement and discussion among her classmates. She elevates conversation in a way uncommon among her peers.

“High school students love to debate, but it’s mostly because they enjoy arguments,” Stoloski said. “Anna wants to hear what other people have to say and then responds to them without the goal of backing them down.”

In April, after only a year in the sport, Anna received a partial rowing scholarship to the University of Rhode Island, where she’ll have a chance to earn a full ride during the coming years.

But as impressive as Numme’s quick rise up the rowing ranks has been, she wants to be known for more than her athletic prowess. She also wants people to understand the trauma she still works to overcome.

“I’ve seen the impact of being open, and something like what I’ve dealt with has the potential to reach a lot of people,” Numme said. “Whether it’s informative or really impactful.”

Tim Kehoe has taught physical education at Lebanon for 30 years, so he’s certainly qualified to judge teenage athleticism. But he didn’t need his experience last fall to notice a new student’s potential. At 5 feet 11 inches tall and with a gymnast’s physique, Anna Numme is hard to miss.

During Numme’s first two years of high school she was enrolled at Sunapee’s Mount Royal Academy, a small, private Catholic K-12 institution, where her mother worked. Last year, Anna learned independently and took community college courses. She hoped her senior year at Lebanon High would provide what she viewed as a “normal” teenage life.

Kehoe describes Numme as the strongest female student to set foot in the weight room during his decades at Lebanon. This spring at 18 years old, she can bench press 165 pounds, squat 265 and deadlift 325.

It didn’t take long for Kehoe, once the school’s highly successful girls basketball coach, to ask Numme last fall if she wanted to shoot some hoops.

“I figured with her size and explosiveness, she could maneuver under the basket and drop in points all game long,” Kehoe said.

Then he paused for effect.

“She was awful,” he continued with a grin. “She was firing the ball off the backboard and all over the gym. After about 10 minutes, I said, ‘What about wrestling?’ ”

Wrestling is Lebanon’s newest varsity sport and its fastest growing. Women’s wrestling is one of the NCAA’s fastest growing sports, though girls wrestling has been established only recently in many high school associations, including New Hampshire’s.

Numme had never wrestled but dedicated herself to the sport. She wrestled only one other girl during the regular season, while competing against boys in the talent-loaded 170-pound weight class. Numme won a girls state title at 160 pounds against several other competitors and competed in the inaugural New England regionals.

“She took her lumps,” Chauncey Wood, Lebanon’s wrestling coach, said. “But she became a good wrestler because of her enthusiasm and willingness to learn.”

Pam Numme wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s zeal for a new athletic endeavor.

She laughed while recalling the numerous kicks she endured while pregnant and how Anna flailed her arms and legs while only days old. A young Anna learned her multiplication tables by cranking out sets of pushups and situps as she hung upside down from the passenger seat of her mother’s metallic blue minivan while they waited for her older sister to finish band practice at Claremont Middle School.

Anna sliced through water as a competitive swimmer with the Claremont Tiger Sharks during sixth and seventh grade. During the year between Mount Royal and Lebanon, she competed as a power lifter.

These days, she uses a rowing machine in her basement before school, lifts with Kehoe during third period and skims across the water with the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation in the late afternoons.

“When I get to a point where I feel I can’t continue, I know there’s nothing more painful that what I experienced and it pushes me to go further,” Numme said. “I have a reservoir in my mind that I can draw on when I need it.”

Pam Numme grew up in Weathersfield and was a cross-country runner, gymnast and track athlete at Springfield High, where she graduated in 1981. After attending a small college in Alaska, she taught students ages 10-14 for a decade at one of the state’s rural schools, sometimes living without electricity or running water.

Pam moved back to the Upper Valley when she was pregnant with Anna and mostly home-schooled her and her older sister, Alison. In addition to academics, the young mother took her daughters hiking, biking, skating and cross-country skiing.

Community service and organized sports were also part of their days, with Anna trying out ballet, softball, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey and swimming.

From the outside, Pam said, their life looked idyllic, but it darkened over time as a male relative became increasingly controlling and volatile.

“If what you said wasn’t right in his (opinion), he could start screaming and beating you,” Anna said of her abuser. She added that certain, sudden movements by men in close proximity can cause her to involuntarily flinch.

Pam Numme said she knew that, like herself, her daughters endured years of emotional abuse, but she said she didn’t realize Anna was being physically and sexually abused until years later.

Anna said she experienced severe anxiety attacks as a result of the abuse, episodes that resulted in breathing difficulties and burst capillaries in her eyes and sometimes resulted in trips to the emergency room.

“There’d be some sort of trigger and I’d be completely reliving getting beaten or raped,” Anna said. “Then I’d come out of it with no idea how much time had passed and no memory of what had happened.”

Anna said she threatened suicide if Pam didn’t remove their abuser from their lives. Anna said she only hinted about the extent of what was happening to her because she was worried about her mother’s safety.

“I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” Anna said. “If I’d given her certain pieces of information, I know she would have done anything to protect me. She’s a brave woman.”

Said Pam: “She didn’t tell me clearly enough. She’d tell me that he hugged her too long, and I’d say, ‘Well, tell him not to.’ In hindsight, I can put the puzzle pieces together.”

Pam Numme said she successfully ostracized the male relative from their daily life in October 2019.

A month later, Anna attempted suicide. Fortunately, she texted friends about what she was doing and was rushed to the hospital, where she spent more than a week.

Anna said the suicide attempt was prompted by the realization that removing her abuser from her life hadn’t alleviated her fear and depression. For years, she’d dreamed of living free of him, but now he was gone and it still seemed as if life would never improve.

Christine Hilliard, an assistant Sullivan County attorney, confirmed there was an investigation into Anna’s allegations and that under state law the case will remain open until she turns 40. (The Valley News is refraining from identifying the women’s alleged abuser because no criminal charges have been filed in the case.)

“The feedback we received was that it wasn’t likely to be a successful case because it was circumstantial evidence,” Anna said. “They were worried (he) might harm us once he found out he was going to trial.

“He’s not hurting me or my family anymore, except in memory. Ideally, he would be put away for the sake of others.”

Pam Numme recalled the sense of helplessness while watching Anna vomit repeatedly at the hospital after the suicide attempt, not knowing how much damage her daughter had suffered.

“I remember one moment when an ER doctor was there and I asked if I was going to die and he said he didn’t know,” Anna said. “I wanted him to say ‘yes.’ ”

Anna Numme’s next stop was a three-week stay at a mental-health treatment center in Brattleboro where she had been sent at an earlier age because she was cutting herself. She recalled bars on the center’s windows, wearing paper gowns and fights among the teenage residents.

Numme described telling the staff that a fellow resident was hoarding medication and planned to take her own life.

“Horrible food and there were times you couldn’t listen to music or read,” Numme said. “I was in there with a bunch of kids who made me realize that I don’t have it so bad.”

Pam and Anna Numme said they’ve engaged in extensive mental health therapy during the past few years; Anna’s was mandated by the state when she revealed the extent of the abuse she had suffered to mental health workers in Brattleboro. Although initially bitter about having to participate in therapy, Anna said the sessions helped, but she no longer attends them regularly. Instead, she often relies on athletics.

“I have (post-traumatic stress disorder) and on those hard days, when that stuff starts to come up again, I can go sort myself out in the weight room or on the mat or in the boat,” she said.

In the winter of 2022, an aunt who is a member of the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation suggested Numme join its junior crew team, which features students mostly from Lebanon High, but also draws from Stevens, Hartford and Mascoma.

Rowing demands the aerobic endurance and explosive power that come naturally to Numme, but she had to learn the sport’s technique and cadence.

“Anna was just all-in when it came to learning the craft and her joy on the water,” said UVRF coach Carin Reynolds, a 1984 Dartmouth College graduate and onetime rowing world champion. “She did twice as much as anyone else and then looked for extra work.”

Numme’s team competes in singles, doubles and quads, mostly eschewing longer eight-person boats, so there’s no hiding a few pure-power generators in the middle, the so-called “engine room.”

“The smaller the boat, the more technically challenging it is to row,” Reynolds said. “You can produce great results on a rowing machine and then get in a boat and fall apart.”

Last summer, Numme and Reynolds discussed how fast she’d need to cover a simulated, 2,000-meter course to attract college recruiters. The senior applied to URI on a whim because of her English teacher, Tim Winslow. He often wore a sweatshirt from the university, where his daughter had been a four-year member of the rowing team.

At Lebanon, Numme took a full load of advanced-placement courses, for which she sometimes studied while churning out miles on a treadmill. She attended robotics and aerospace camps growing up and hopes to double-major in statistics and computer science and minor in exercise science at URI. She’s also intrigued by philosophy.

Anna Numme’s time with her uncle has given her perspective on her relationship with her mother.

Earlier in the school year, Anna asked Pam to not attend her sports events and generally kept her at arm’s length. However, a thaw has occurred as graduation nears and the two text each other daily and visit in person about once a week.

“She has to process what happened to us as well, and that’s difficult,” Anna said. “When people are in pain, especially with the same source of pain, there’s going to be tension. It’s completely understandable, but I just couldn’t cope with it while dealing with my own things.”

Cann, a former Springfield High wrestler and a weightlifting enthusiast who helped his niece get started in power lifting, must hustle to keep the fridge full.

“Dear Uncle Dad,” began a note Anna once left in the kitchen. “If you’re looking for food, there isn’t any. I ate it all. When you go shopping, please buy 12 chicken breasts, two heads of broccoli and a rice farm. Love, your rower daughter.”

Cann, who attributes Anna’s powerful genetics to ancestors who labored in Nova Scotia’s stone quarries, chuckles while discussing his housemate.

“She’s as stubborn as a government mule,” he said. “She doesn’t accept setbacks as barriers, but as things you hurdle over.”

The start of college is only three months away. and its bounty of social, academic and athletic opportunities is breathtaking to consider.

“If anybody’s going to be able to balance it all, it’s Anna,” said Stoloski, her government teacher. “I’m very curious to see how she does next year in a more competitive academic and athletic environment, because she seems to rise to every challenge.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

Help for survivors of domestic violence can be found by calling 211 in either of the Twin States. Safeline’s 24-hour hotline is 1-800-639-7233. WISE advocates can be reached by calling 866-348-9473 or texting 603-836-9472. Online chat is also available at wiseuv.org.