Fear to Focus

“Survivors are making use of their fear, not being ruled by it. Their fear often feels like and turns into anger, and that motivates them and makes them sharper”

– Laurence Gonzales

Emory and Henry

Above, is one of my favorite quotes from the book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. I identified with the feelings of turning the fear of the attack into focus. Starting Rising Strength is my way to direct that focus and anger into something good. Ultimately, I feel extraordinarily lucky to not only have survived the attack, but to also be in a position to help other women. The combination of immense gratitude and anger over the violence that occurs against women is what fuels me to try to reach as many women as possible with the message of Rising Strength. Health, awareness, gratitude and resilience is the cornerstone of what Rising Strength is about. I am so fortunate to have amazing people in my life who have helped turn Rising Strength into a community of women who support, uplift and motivate each other. I am very excited to see what this upcoming year will hold for us as we plan more talks, races and self-defense workshops.

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Last month, I had the wonderful opportunity to share the message of Rising Strength with the female athletes of Emory and Henry College. The student athletes that I met with are incredible girls who listened intently and asked me insightful questions throughout the talk. It was an honor to spend time with these young women. Thank you, Taylor Jefferson for organizing this talk and for caring so deeply about the safety of the athletes at Emory and Henry.

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“Rise Above and Grow Stronger”

Always fun with Jess and Beth
A few weeks after the attack I had the opportunity to run a trail race in North Carolina. While the race was memorable for many reasons, the best part by far was meeting Beth Murray and Jessica Brown. The friendships I have with Jess and Beth have enriched my life so much and I am eternally grateful to have met them. In addition to the friendship between the three of us, we have each introduced each other to other friends, creating an amazing network of women who continuously support each other. Many of these women were on the Blue Ridge Relay team and those who couldn’t run in the race were cheering us on the entire time. I am blessed to have this network and I am grateful for each of these amazing women.

I mentioned in a previous post how Jess and I spoke after the race where we met and connected on a deep level over our shared experiences. I was still very much in shock about the attack when I met Jess. It’s hard to articulate just how much talking to Jess that day helped me to begin to heal and to eventually see the importance of starting Rising Strength.

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Above, is my favorite picture of Jess and encapsulates the joy that she brings to everyone she meets. It is an honor to have Jess for a friend and I am so glad she is on the Rising Strength team. These are her words…

So it has been a few weeks since our Rising Strength team of 11 amazing people ran 208 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some people called us crazy and some thought it was an amazing feat that we accomplished especially after hearing our reason for running. Our 11 member team came from all over and most of us had not met before the day of the race. Our connecting link was Rachel.

After Rachel’s attack last year she made it her mission to spread awareness on violence against women and she is starting by rallying friends and family to join her cause. A big part of her mission is teaching young women the importance of being healthy and active. So we decided to get a group together and run a crazy race just to help spread the word. When I first heard the idea I was completely on board! I am always up for a challenge and of course helping out a good cause.

I didn’t realize how much I would benefit personally from it and how much it would mean to me. I met Rachel a few weeks after her attack and we immediately bonded because we both were now a statistic. I am so proud of Rachel for not only dealing with her experience but sharing it with others. So many people put their experiences in a little box and refuse to talk about them – I was one of those people for so long and had tried to block so much from my mind. But things always have a way of sneaking back up. I love the name that Rachel is calling her movement – “Rising Strength.” We can’t hide from our experiences; we can’t ignore the statistics. We can share our stories; we can rise above and become stronger!

Jessica

One Year After the Attack

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It’s hard to believe that it has been one year since the attack. Many of my close friends who I spoke with in the early morning hours the night of the attack recalled with me recently, the feelings of terror, shock and relief that we all felt.

It would have been easy to cope with the attack by considering myself lucky and trying to put it behind me. However, two other women weren’t as lucky as I was, and were raped by my attacker when he grabbed them as they walked on the sidewalk in Johnson City, TN. I can’t shake the memory of the look on my dad’s face as we listened to the investigator explain how the violence and confidence that my attacker showed that night indicated that I narrowly escaped rape and murder. I watched my dad listen to what is every father’s worst fear for their daughter. I am completely aware of how fortunate I am and this awareness is what has led to Rising Strength.

At the time of my attack I was coaching an under 14 girls soccer team. After the attack I had a hard time being around the girls and not imagining them in my situation one day. Knowing that these ambitious young girls will, much like me, play soccer in college, pursue graduate degrees and live alone one day haunted me. The thought of any of my players enduring what I had been through and not being as lucky as I was to get away from my attacker, was crushing. This thought was driven home even more so when several months after the attack I was speaking to a class about my experience at East Tennessee State University. A nurse from the local hospital, who did the rape kits on the two women my attacker raped, explained to me and the girls in the classroom that my attacker was HIV positive. I sat at the panel stunned and tried my best to not break down in front of the young women I had just spoken to. Again, my young players came to mind and it was heartbreaking. I knew in that moment that Rising Strength had a greater purpose.

In the short nine months that Rising Strength has existed there has been self-defense classes started, talks with teams and classrooms, fundraising events and a Rising Strength team that took on the Blue Ridge Relay all for the purpose of keeping women safe and bringing awareness to the violence that occurs against women. Thank you to all of the people who have and continue to support the goals of Rising Strength. Words cannot express how grateful I am to so many individuals who have helped me throughout this year. So much more needs to be done on many levels to end gender violence. As Rising Strength continues to grow and add members to what has turned into an amazing team effort, I am excited to see what this next year brings. I never would have believed a year ago all the amazing things that would come from something so terrible. Thank you to everyone who has made it the most rewarding and remarkable year of my life.

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Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay Team

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It is hard for me to describe how meaningful this past weekend was at the Blue Ridge Relay. Nearly, one year ago I was in the same mountains running the Asheville Half Marathon, a week after the attack occurred. At that point, I think I was still in shock about how closely my life was almost so violently taken from me. As I ran the half marathon course, I remember feeling immense gratitude to be alive and unharmed but also relief to be around so many other people. Fear of being attacked again and feeling scared to be alone took many months to fade. I had no idea that day at the race of all the amazing things that would soon come.
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This weekend being back in those same beautiful mountains surrounded by people I love, I was still filled with gratitude but the fear of the attack was gone and replaced with feelings of triumph. Unlike the night of the attack when I was alone, this weekend I had my friends and dad by my side taking on the mission of Rising Strength. I can not thank my friends enough, who not only took on the Blue Ridge Relay challenge for Rising Strength, but who also spent their time and money throwing fundraisers, drove hours from home, took off from work and pushed through injuries to accomplish our team’s goal. Thank you, Beth Murray, Jessica Brown, Erik Goransson, Ashley Daugherty, Beth Koloup, Christi Comes Out Bird, Pam Morgan, Cristi Blalock, Holly Street, Laura Rosenberg for being such incredible friends and people, I am very blessed to have each of you in my life.
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Thank you Blue Lizard Sunscreen, Team Kattouf, Broyle’s Florist, Mountain Yoga and Interstate Resources for sponsoring our team! Thank you ETSU Athletics for helping bring awareness to our efforts,
Go Bucs!
Billy Goat
Thank you to all the sweet friends and family who contributed to our cause, came to our fundraisers and cheered us on. It is a very exciting time for Rising Strength as we work closer to becoming a non-profit and start formulating what races, events and volunteering that we will be apart of in the upcoming year.

Gratitude

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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

-Dr. Suess

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the support, love and encouragement I have received from so many amazing people in my life. I know without a doubt that if I did not have this network around me Rising Strength would never have started. The goal of Rising Strength is to create awareness of the violence that occurs against women and ignite change that will keep women safe. Thank you to the many people who have made such a difference in my life and continue to support the goals of Rising Strength. Simply put, I love you and your support means the world to me.

Last week there was a fundraiser hosted by Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay team member Pam Morgan at the Depot Street Brewery in Jonesborough, TN. I met Pam in 2011, through a mutual friend who thought that Pam and I had a lot in common. During this time I was taking care of my mom as she was passing away from cancer. Pam and I immediately connected over sharing the loss of losing a mother to cancer along with our love of the outdoors and healthy living. Pam has provided infinite support and encouragement to me throughout the years that I have known her and I am so blessed to have her as a friend. Thank you to all those who came out to the fundraiser!

Enjoying beer in honor of Rising Strength, cheers!

Enjoying Depot Street beer in honor of Rising Strength, cheers!

We are less than a month away from the Blue Ridge Relay! The girls on the team and I are so excited and want to thank everyone who has donated to our cause, come to our fundraising parties and encouraged us along the way. HUGE thank you to our sponsors Blue Lizard, Interstate Resources, Team Kattouf, Broyles Florist and Mountain Yoga!

Blue Ridge teammates Cristi & Ashley with family and friends at Depot Street!

Blue Ridge teammates Cristi & Ashley with family and friends at Depot Street!

Rising Strength in North Carolina

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This past weekend was a great one for me and several of the Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay team members Jessica Brown, Beth Murray and Christi Comes Out Bird. Jessica and Beth hosted a fantastic pool party in honor of Rising Strength and raised almost $600 for our team! Huge thanks to Jess & Beth and everyone that came out to celebrate with us! Thank you Austin Brown, Ryan Murray and Sarah Deblaey for such a great weekend!

I met Jessica and Beth at a trail race in NC only two weeks after the attack. At that point, I was still feeling in shock about what had happened, but was happy to get away from the area where the attack occurred and to meet new people who enjoyed running as much as I do.

After the race that I met Jess and Beth, two weeks after the attack

After the Uwharrie Trail race where I met Jess and Beth.

After the race Jessica and I spent some time together and spoke about the attack. Jessica shared a close family member’s story of surviving an attack and attempted murder. I instantly felt very connected to Jessica and was stunned to hear that someone so close to her had endured such a horrific experience. Jessica oozes positivity and joy for life and you would never guess that Jessica was so closely tied to something so heartbreaking. Talking to Jessica about my experience that day really helped me start the healing process and understand that I was not alone in my experience of violence against women.

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I am beyond grateful to have met Jessica and Beth that day and for the friendship that I have with them. In addition to being great runners, Jessica and Beth also love to bike, do yoga, paddleboard and windsurf. These athletic girls are also proud army wives and nurses! Jess and Beth introduced me to Christi Comes Out Bird this past spring at a hot yoga class in Southern Pines. After hearing about our Blue Ridge Relay team, Christi jumped on board right away and has been very supportive of our team’s efforts! Christi, thank you for coming out to the party this weekend and bringing your brother and sister in-law!

I am so excited for the Blue Ridge Relay and to introduce the rest of our team to these awesome ladies!

Blue Ridge Relay

Blue Ridge Relay

Over the past couple months ten ladies have joined me on my mission to raise awareness of the violence that occurs against women and bring self-defense to schools. We are teaming up to run the Blue Ridge Relay, a 208 mile relay race that will take us from southwest Virginia to downtown Asheville, North Carolina. I could not be more blessed to have each of these women in my life and cannot thank them enough for being a part of Rising Strength. I will be providing bios on all of the members of the team and our fundraising efforts throughout the summer as we prepare to run in the relay.

If you would like to donate, be a sponsor or be involved in any way please feel free to contact me and check out the link below. Thank you!

Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay Team

Rising Strength from Nashville to Carmel

Belmont University

April was another incredible month for Rising Strength. I feel blessed to have had so many great experiences doing the things I love. The month started with sharing my story to the Belmont University Women’s Soccer Team in Nashville, TN. While speaking to the girls on the Belmont soccer team it was hard not to see my ETSU teammates. I wanted so badly for each of the girls to know how important they are and how much their safety matters. The feedback from the talk was great and coach, Heather Henson, is going to look into getting the team into a RAD program like the one the ETSU Women’s soccer team took after I spoke with them. Thank you Heather and Debs for helping keep your girls safe!

While I was in Nashville, I was also able to volunteer and speak at an Oral Cancer Foundation Walk. The Oral Cancer Foundation was cherished and loved by my mom, who passed away from oral cancer after a nine-year battle on August 27, 2011. Being a part of such an incredible organization has meant so much to me. Meeting the wonderful people who dedicate their lives to finding a cure for oral cancer, while also providing support for patients and survivors has been such an honor and privilege.
Oral Cancer Foundation

The fundraiser that I have been working on in honor of my mom is called “Carol’s Fight”. With the support of my friends and family, “Carol’s Fight” has raised over $1,000 towards the Oral Cancer Foundation. After the attack, I felt that I needed to find purpose and do more to give back. Along with raising awareness for the violence that occurs against women and promoting self-defense, I am passionate about supporting the OCF. Thank you to my sweet and generous friends who have supported Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight.

One of my mom’s dreams was to go to Carmel, California. Unfortunately, because of her constant battle with cancer she was unable to see this breathtakingly gorgeous place in person. I was able to fulfill this dream and spread awareness for Carol’s Fight with my wonderful friend Laura Rosenberg, who ran the Big Sur 21 miler with me. My ETSU soccer teammates Jen Altimier and Erin Billingsby woke up at two in the morning to take us to the race and cheered us on. I am without a doubt one of the luckiest girls out there to have so many incredible people in my life. Thank you!

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This has been such an amazing month, filled with awesome moments! As I leave Tennessee and start a new adventure in Maryland, I am filled with excitement for what is in store for Rising Strength!
Tennessee

“Changing How Colleges Deal With Rape”

Karasek (right) and Shannon Thomas, another complainant at Berkeley

Check out this article by Claire Suddath from the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek to see how college students are “outmaneuvering” their campus administrators when it comes to allegations of rape and sexual assault:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-03/end-rape-on-campus-helps-change-how-colleges-handle-sexual-assault

Getting Started

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March has been another great month for Rising Strength. I have been so fortunate to of had the opportunity to share my story with the women of East Tennessee State University. I first spoke to Officer Amanda Worley’s RAD class, along with several other advocates for women. Amanda then joined me a week later to speak with the ETSU Women’s Soccer Team. Being an alumni of the ETSU soccer team, the thought of any of these girls going through what I did, absolutely crushes me. Coaches Debs Brereton and Adam Sayers have been so supportive of me and my cause and keeping their girls safe is very close to our hearts. The feedback from the girls was amazing and they seemed to really get a lot out of the program, as well as have fun. I am honored to be associated with such awesome young women!

This month also marked the first self-defense workshop held at The Ludus Boxing Gym. The turnout for the workshop was great and Garrett O’Sullivan did a fantastic job! We will be having the second workshop on April 19th.

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Additionally, Rising Strength has a new administrator and co-founder, Beth Koloup. Beth and I have been teammates and friends since we were 12 years old and share a passion for outreach, faith, fitness, friends and advocacy for women. Beth is an incredible athlete, who played soccer and lacrosse at the University of Notre Dame. Currently, Beth is working as an attorney in Baltimore and stays fit by playing soccer in local leagues and running races. I am blessed to have a friend like Beth and I am thrilled to once again be teammates as we turn Rising Strength into a non-profit.
Me and Beth

Beth

There are so many exciting things coming up for Rising Strength! I am so blessed to have amazing friends in my life that are helping make Rising Strength into so much more than a blog. I cannot wait to soon share several of the projects that we are working on, along with more information about the incredible women who are joining Rising Strength and making it happen!