Imagine leaving your home and not knowing if it will be there when you get back.
That feeling — the feeling of not knowing — has troubled Annabelle Lindsay for weeks on end.
Why? Because over the past few months, deadly bushfires have torn through her home country of Australia, and it’s only getting worse.
She feels helpless.
Right now, the Lady Movin’ Mavs sophomore is about 9,000 miles away from home. There’s not much she can do, really. She’s constantly checking her phone, browsing through maps of the fires and hoping for the best.
At the time of publication, the bushfires have burned about 26 million acres of land, according to WWF-Australia. That’s more or less the size of Ohio.
Over a billion animals have been killed in the fires: koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and others. Thousands of homes have been lost, and at least 29 people are dead.
Since September 2019, bushfires have surrounded Australia.
It’s quite devastating, but not everyone can grasp just how much of a toll this can take on one’s mental health.
“I’m sure it’s weighing on her, you know? I can see her frustration get a little bit higher in practices,” head coach Jason Nelms said. “For most of [the team] here, it’s kind of hard for them to wrap their minds around what’s really going on over there.”
In her first practice back with the Lady Movin’ Mavs after spending the holidays in Australia, Lindsay was showing someone a map of the fires. Then, one popped up near her home in Canberra, and it was all she could think about for the rest of the training session.
When is the fire going to hit my home? Is my family going to be safe? How are they going to be evacuated? What’s going to happen to my friends?
“It’s just such a scary thing, and I don’t know what’s happening,” Lindsay said. “It kind of wears you out, and it’s hard to sleep, and you kind of want to know that everything’s okay but you don’t.”
Smoke from surrounding fires have besieged Canberra, so it’s basically everywhere, she said.
Grey skies, red skies, orange skies. Black ash. House flooded with smoke.
“You go to the shower and you smell smoke just washing off of you,” she said. “All you see are people wearing gas masks to try and protect themselves.”
Although her town hasn’t been hit by the fires, it’s not really safe to do anything but stay indoors because of the poor air quality. From empty supermarkets to a lack of resources, Lindsay said it feels like the apocalypse has begun.
While back home, she and her brother, Tom Lindsay, spent some time gathering goods for those affected by the fires. The simple act of volunteering has brought the community together, she said.
“Everyone around you is not shopping for themselves, really, they’re shopping for others. Like, people are looking at lists and going, ‘What can we send?’” she said. “Everyone has become so united.”
When Lindsay’s brother flew into the Metroplex a week ago, he said everyone getting off the flight felt a sense of relief. When the plane took off, it was over 90 degrees in Australia, and when he landed in Texas, it was 45 degrees and raining.
“Someone took a breath outside and was like ‘holy s---, I can breathe,’” Tom Lindsay said.
Annabelle Lindsay isn’t the emotional type, but she couldn’t help but hold back tears when describing the sight of grey skies and smoke that blanket her hometown.
“You know damage is going to be done to people you love and your home, and you don’t know the extent,” she said. “How are people meant to survive? How do you rebuild a country after this kind of devastation?”
Lindsay recalled a point when one of her friends canceled a coffee date to fight the bushfires.
She has friends running toward the fires to help, but she also has friends trying to get away from them.
“I’ve had a lot of friends who have had their hometown just be completely wiped out to the point where all that’s there is black ash,” she said. “I’ve had friends who have been stuck on the beach because it’s the only way they could escape the fire.”
Although she’s far from home, Lindsay has found a way to help. From Feb. 7 to 9, the Lady Movin’ Mavs will host their home tournament in the Maverick Activities Center, and Lindsay has pledged to donate $2 for every point she scores in the tournament and $5 for every time a player falls out of their wheelchair.
All proceeds will go toward relief efforts; she’s doing it all in the name of her country.
Last month, Lindsay qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with the Australian National Team in Thailand. She achieved a lifelong dream just to return home to a nightmare — but now, she’s more driven than ever.
“Representing my country is going to mean a lot more now,” she said. “I’ve also never been prouder to be an Australian and a Canberran.”