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.

6 thoughts on “Rising Strength

  1. Rachel, you’re truly amazing:) I’m honored to know someone so strong. I look forward to more blog posts and hearing more of your story! (Oh and say hi to ray jones for me:) I miss all of you guys) keep up the fantastic work you’re doing!

  2. What a powerful story and literally Thank God that you are healing from this! There is great strength in you like your mom – she was a fighter for sure and so are you! May God bless you and open plenty of doors as you raise awareness!

    • rlayer7@gmail.com

      Thank you, Jim! Thank you for being such a good friend to my mom and for all the support and encouragement that you have shown me through the years, I appreciate it!

  3. Rachel, such a powerful story! Your strength, courage and wisdom are so inspiring! I am so proud of you and admire the positive outlook you always have, no matter how tough things can be. I’m so happy your story had a much happier ending then it could have, and it has made you a stronger person (which I didn’t think was even possible because of the absolute warrior you already were 😉 ) Keep doing what you’re doing!

    • rlayer7@gmail.com

      Thank you Maria! Your support and encouragement throughout the years has meant so much to me. You are one of the strongest people that I know and I have always really valued your advice and friendship. I hope you are well and that we can catch up soon.

  4. Rachel – your new site is fantastic. It is wonderful to see you living your purpose and thriving. You’re in it to win it!

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