Oral Cancer Awareness Month

OralID

April is an important month for anyone who has been touched by oral cancer. My mom, Carol Layer, lost a nine-year battle with oral cancer in August of 2011. Throughout my mom’s fight against oral cancer, her involvement in the Oral Cancer Foundation helped her immensely by allowing her to form friendships with people who were enduring the same hardships she was. After my mom passed away, many members of the oral cancer foundation reached out to me to offer their support and let me know what an important role my mom played in helping them get through their own fight with oral cancer.

The experience of losing my mom changed me in many ways. I value my health, family, friends and time more than any possession I could ever earn. It wasn’t until after the attack, when I realized how quickly my life could be taken from me, that I started to ask myself these questions:

“What is my purpose?”

“What am I passionate about?”

“If I had died the night of the attack, what would I have been remembered for?”

“What do I want most out of this life?”

“How am I making a difference?”

I continue to ask myself those questions everyday and many of the answers led me to start Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight . I hope anyone who is reading this right now asks these questions of themselves today.

While I never would have wished the attack to happen, I am grateful for how the experience led me to start living with more purpose and passion. At the time I asked myself those questions, I wanted nothing more than to talk to my mom. Not having my mom for one of the hardest and most intense experiences of my life really drove home that she was gone. However, I felt my mom’s presence constantly during that time and I know without a doubt seeing her fight cancer is what gave me the strength to fight off my attacker. I saw first hand for nine years, that no matter how hard and tough things can be, this life is worth fighting for. This is when I started to get more involved with the Oral Cancer Foundation and start a fundraising campaign in my mom’s honor.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to share my mom’s story with a company, OralID that is determined to save lives and prevent people from suffering the way my mom did. Thank you OralID for traveling to St. Michaels and giving me the opportunity to tell my mom’s story. It wasn’t easy to describe the hardships and all of the details of what my mom endured because of oral cancer but I am so honored that her life will hopefully save others through early detection. I hope that anyone who hears my mom’s story knows that any day you have the ability to eat, drink, speak, laugh, smile and kiss your loved ones is a good day. Oral cancer stole those abilities from my mom. No matter what else is going on in your life, if you have the ability to do those things you are okay and things will get better.

The next few weeks are packed with amazing events for both the OCF and Rising Strength. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of these opportunities and for the people that make them possible. Thank you just doesn’t seem adequate, but Thank you to all of my friends and family, OralID, the Oral Cancer Foundation, Team Kattouf, Lon Latiolais for your continued support of Carol’s Fight and Go Shake!

Carol's Fight 1

Boston to the Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Relay

As I prepare for the upcoming Boston Marathon and the second Blue Ridge Relay team Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay Team it’s hard not to think back to the day of the attack. I started my day with a run through Johnson City, something that I had done hundreds of times in the 9 years that I lived there. I ran that day without fear. I remember feeling happy. I was getting ready for a half marathon that would be taking place the following week and preparing for a marathon that I planned to do that upcoming November. It was late September and still warm, but it had started to rain slightly cooling the temperature. It was perfect running weather. I had no idea that I was targeted by a paroled rapist on that run. I was unaware that as I ran back to my house and sat on my porch briefly as I took off my wet running shoes and chatted on the phone with a friend that I was leading my attacker to my home.

Learning to run without fear again has taken time. I would be lying if I said that when I run alone now that I am not jumpy or more aware of who is around me. That I don’t immediately lock the door behind me and make sure that every window is secure before I leave. This is just a part of my life now. It’s easier to run with other people when I’m more relaxed and only focus on running. While training alone is still somewhat stressful, running races in the months after the attack, qualifying for Boston and putting a Blue Ridge team were a huge part of my healing process. The goals and focus that each goal gave me helped me put the attack in the past and focus on how I would use the situation to become a better person.

I am so lucky to have the support of many incredible people who have gotten behind the causes that I believe in. This spring is gearing up to be an unforgettable one! As with all of my races, I hope to bring awareness to not only Rising Strength but to the Oral Cancer Foundation fundraising campaign Carol’s Fight that is in memory of my mom. Bennett Gibbs the owner of Go Shake, reached out to me several months ago offering his support for the Boston Marathon. I’m very excited to represent GoShake as I take on 26.2 miles and cannot thank Bennett enough for his support and donation to Carol’s Fight!

I am so grateful for some recent opportunities for both Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight. I will be sharing more about each of them in the upcoming months. Thank you so much to everyone who continues to support these causes that mean so much to me.

Justice in Motion

Justice in Motion

I am honored to be speaking at this year’s Justice in Motion 5k, in Jonesborough, TN on April 25, 2015. The Justice in Motion 5k is dedicated to victims of homicide, while also raising awareness of victims rights and promoting victim services for ALL victims of crimes. All proceeds of this race will go to local non-profit groups in the area that provide aid to victims.

I never thought I would be a victim of an attempted rape and murder, not because I was naive that terrible things don’t happen, but because I considered myself a pretty cautious person who didn’t put myself in bad situations. Being attacked in my home by a paroled rapist did not seem feasible in Johnson City, TN, the college town I had grown to love. I was extraordinarily lucky to have gotten away from my attacker before I was injured or killed. So many others, were not as fortunate as I was, including the two women my attacker raped several days after my attack. Please help me in honoring the victims of violence by joining in the cause of Justice in Motion.

To register or donate to the race, please click the link below. Thank you!

Justice in Motion

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I recently went back to Johnson City, TN and went on my first run there since the day of the attack. It is believed that my attacker followed me from my morning run back to my home. After the attack, I avoided going near the street where I used to live, a mile from where I went to undergrad and grad school at ETSU. Over a year later, it felt great to be back in Johnson City and I don’t feel like the attack defines my experience there. Instead, when I go back to Johnson City I choose to see it for the beautiful place, filled with incredible people and where I have so many great memories. The attacker could not take away my love of East Tennessee.

I am very excited for upcoming Rising Strength talks and a partnership with Go Shake. As well as the second Blue Ridge Relay team. Thank you to everyone for the support of Rising Strength!

First Year

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“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live.”
-Garth Stein

As I look back on the past year and all that has happened and been accomplished, it’s hard to believe that Rising Strength was only started in January. Through the support of many incredible people in my life I was able to share my story and the message of Rising Strength to students and athletes at East Tennessee State University, Emory and Henry College and Belmont University. Hosting self defense classes and running the Blue Ridge Relay provided some of the most unforgettable moments and I am so grateful to all of those who made them possible.

I cannot thank my friends and loved ones enough for the support they have and continue to pour on me as the goals of Rising Strength grow. I am very excited to start 2015 as we plan more talks, announce new partnerships and start preparing for the Blue Ridge Relay.

Huge thank you to the sponsors and supporters who made our goal of running the Blue Ridge Relay possible!
Blue Lizard Sunscreen, ETSU Athletics, Team Kattouf, Mountain Yoga,
Interstate Container and Broyles Florist

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

The Oral Cancer Foundation has encouraged members to take part of Giving Tuesday, on December 2nd. Giving Tuesday, is a campaign to add a new date to the national calendar with the hope of one powerful national day of giving, raising funds and awareness for important causes everywhere. I hope that many will participate and support the cause that they are passionate about.

My Giving Tuesday will go towards Carol’s Fight, the fundraising and awareness effort that my friends and family have helped me with in honor of my mom. Thank you to everyone who has worn Carol’s Fight shirts and supported this cause that means so much to me.

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.

Emory and Henry 2

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.

Emory and Henry 3

“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.

Jessica B

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

one year

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

brr team

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.
team brr

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

care

“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!