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!

Fighting Back

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Fighting Back

Fighting Back

The past month has been an incredible one. The feedback, encouraging messages and amazing support of Rising Strength has been overwhelming and has only deepened my belief that there is a purpose in what happened to me.

Tony Casey, a friend and awesome runner, wrote a great piece for the Johnson City Press on the attack and the mission of Rising Strength. Thank you, Tony for helping get this important message get out there.

I had the opportunity to speak to a RAD class at East Tennessee State University. Officer Amanda Worley is the dedicated instructor of this class and it has been an honor to get to know her. I hope that every female student takes advantage of the RAD class, it could save your heart, mind and life one day. I will be going back next week to speak with the athletes at ETSU. I am so grateful for the constant support of the ETSU Women’s Soccer Team. The support of the current coaching staff, my teammates and the parents of my teammates have given me strength on days that were hard after the attack.

One of the best decision I made after the attack was to start taking boxing with Garrett O’Sullivan at Ludus Boxing in Johnson City, TN. After the attack, I was scared and had lost my confidence when I was alone. I went from feeling like an independent, young professional that was ready to take on anything to literally being afraid of being alone and sleeping with the lights off. I have known Garrett and his uncle Ray for many years so I felt comfortable going to Garrett and asking for help. The confidence I gained from taking sessions with Garrett was incredible. I also think learning how to throw a good punch helped me alleviate the frustration and anger that had started to build after the attack.

Self defense should not just be something you consider doing one day. Please don’t wait, like I did, to take boxing or self-defense after something terrible happens.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me on this journey. I am so excited to get the opportunity to help women and get the Rising Strength message out there.

Rising Strength

Thank you for checking out my new blog! I am excited to be starting a new year filled with exciting things to look forward to. Almost five months ago an event changed the course of my life and has led me to where I am today. While I never would have wished what happened to me on that day, I am eternally grateful to be alive and for all of the lessons that it has taught me. Here is some background information on where I was in life at the time of the attack and what exactly happened.

The summer of 2013 was a big one for me. I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in Rome before completing my master’s program that June. The program had more significance to me than a school credit because it also allowed me to visit Ponza, Italy. Ponza is the place my great-grandfather Guy Mazzella left when he came to America and the place my mom always dreamed of going one day. Unfortunately, my mom was never able to fulfill this dream. In 2011, I took a year off from grad school to help my dad take care of my mom as she passed away from cancer. Being able to finish grad school while fulfilling one of my mom’s dreams has been one of the most meaningful accomplishments of my life. I came back from Rome and was also blessed to have a full time job lined up. My first week of working at my new job, my boyfriend of almost five years and I broke up. So needless to say, it was a summer of a lot of growth and changes.

By the time September rolled around, I was feeling really good with where I was at. It was the first time in over five years that I wasn’t in school, balancing two jobs and or in a relationship…and I was having fun with it! I was training for a marathon, traveling on the weekends and really enjoying my freedom. Saturday, September 21, 2013 started like any typical Saturday that fall. I was supposed to coach a soccer game in Knoxville that morning but the games were cancelled so I went on a long run instead. A friend came over that afternoon and we spent the day running errands and hanging out. On her way home, my friend got into a car accident and totaled her car. Luckily, no one was hurt and I gave her a ride to her house that was about an hour away. By the time I got back, I was pretty beat and crashed early on the couch. Around quarter to midnight my dog started barking. I have a Cairn Terrier, if your familiar with the breed you will understand why I wasn’t too concerned about him barking, it’s one of his favorite things to do. I let him outside and went into my room to start folding clothes that I cleaned and had thrown on the bed earlier that day. By the second folded shirt, I realized that I didn’t want to finish the job and grabbed a pillow and blanket and headed back to the couch to read a book. I was on the couch for less than five minutes before Oliver started barking again. Before I could get out the second “shh Oliver!” there was a hand over my mouth and a man grabbing me from behind.

My first thought when he grabbed me that it was my ex-boyfriend. My ex would have never been physically aggressive with me like that, but I had never had another man touch me in my apartment and I was completely shocked that this was happening. When his hand covered my mouth, I knew instantly that I did not know this person and that I was in a lot of trouble. While he was hitting me in the face and pulling my hair, all I could think was “I’m going to die”, “I can’t believe this” and “This is what people think before they die”. I didn’t have any other profound thoughts other than that. From holding my mom as she died, I have a strong belief that there is peace in death. The thought of dying didn’t scare me, but dying that way did. I was able to get to my feet, the whole time looking down as he held a firm grip on my hair. I screamed and screamed. He told me to stop screaming and I screamed louder. I was able to push him off of me to get enough space to run out the front door. The door had two locks on it and I didn’t have my contacts in but was able to get it open quickly. I never looked back at him. As I sprinted barefoot in the street to my neighbor’s house, I don’t remember my feet hitting the ground. I was screaming the entire time that I was running and by the time my neighbor opened his door, several other neighbors were outside, one with a shot-gun. I didn’t think anyone would hear my screams. I didn’t remember what I was screaming. I found out after, that everyone heard me.

There were five 911 calls within minutes of my screams being heard, one of which came from a street away. A neighbor four homes down told me that his entire house woke up when they heard me and that his 16-year-old son was shaking uncontrollably, claiming to have never heard something so bad. This was a pretty big surprise to me, I’ve never been considered a loud person, and in the moment truly believed that night that no one would hear me. That night, I was screaming and fighting for my life.

The man who attacked me was able to escape without being caught and no one has been charged for my home invasion, assault and attempted rape. Next to the couch I was laying on when I was attacked sat my wallet, cell phone and computer, they were all left untouched. The only thing that my attacker wanted that night was me. A few days after my attack, a man was arrested for raping two women in Johnson City that he grabbed on the street. He was on parole for attacking a runner in 2007. The DA and investigator believe this is the man who broke into my house and assaulted me. They think he followed me on my way home from running that morning and waited to see if I was alone. There was no concrete evidence linking him to my apartment that night.

The first month or so after the attack was tough. I didn’t sleep well and felt nervous when I was alone. I moved in with my friend, the one that got into a car accident on the day of the attack, she got a new car and a roommate that day. It was hard going from someone who lived by themselves for years and was extremely independent to feeling afraid. Luckily, I have great friends and people in my life that really helped me during that time and kept me busy and active. I still had a strong desire to get far away from Johnson City and Tennessee. I started applying to jobs all over the country, including Alaska. Boxing and self-defense classes were a big help in me gaining my confidence and security back. After more time and reflection, I realized that I didn’t need to leave this area to heal.

I am now ready to get out and start talking publicly about the attack and I am hoping to raise awareness to:
1. Violence against Women
2. Importance of Self Defense
3. Overcoming

My blog will deal with these topics and document my journey.