OCF Run for Jeremy Blevins

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
-Muhammad Ali

Shelley OCF 2

I first connected with Shelley Blevins in the fall of 2014 after we both participated in the Blue Ridge Relay. Two months after the race Shelley sent me a message letting me know that we had much more than running in common. Like me, Shelley is a graduate of East Tennessee State University. Unfortunately, Shelley and I also share the heartbreak of losing a loved one to oral cancer.

Shelley lost her husband, Jeremy, in August of 2013 after an eight month battle with oral cancer. Jeremy was 42, a non-smoker and ran every day. Shelley described Jeremy as “having perfect health” and in the 25 years that they were together he barely ever had a cold. Jeremy’s form of oral cancer was so aggressive that even major surgery and treatment at MD Anderson in Houston, TX could not save or prolong his life. Jeremy and Shelley have two young children who now don’t have their dad because of oral cancer. Oral cancer does not discriminate and often there are no known causes.

Shelley and I at the OCF Run for Jeremy Blevins

Shelley has been an active member of the Oral Cancer Foundation for the past two years. On February 6th, I had the opportunity to walk in the OCF Run for Jeremy Blevins in Fort Mill, SC. Shelley did an amazing job organizing the event and the turn out was great! Thank you, Shelley for all that you do to raise awareness and support the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Oral Cancer Foundation

Thank you, Jess and Beth, for waking up so early and driving 6 hours round trip to attend the event.  You two are the best!!

Thank you, Jess and Beth, for waking up so early and driving 6 hours round trip to attend the event. You two are the best!!

Two Years

Two years ago today, I woke up and went for a run in Johnson City, TN and my life changed forever. I was completely unaware on my run that I was being targeted and followed by a paroled rapist. Later that night, I was attacked in my home by a serial rapist who broke in through a bathroom window and grabbed me while I laid on the couch reading a book.

I am blessed to be here today and that I wasn’t raped that night. I am even more fortunate that through the love and friendship of the people in my life we have been able to turn that horrible night into something that helps others. Thank you to everyone who has supported Rising Strength and encouraged me along the way.


One week after the attack, I ran a 1/2 marathon in Asheville, NC. While I was running the race I was overcome with feelings of relief and gratitude. I had the same feelings of gratitude and triumph last year when I put together a team to take on the 2014 Blue Ridge Relay to raise awareness for the violence that occurs against women and promote self-defense. We had such a great experience that we decided to do it again!

Last week we took on 208 miles of constant running and some seriously daunting hills to raise awareness for message of Rising Strength. Thank you so much Beth, Teigen, Erik, Ashley, Jamie, Brett, Holly, Melissa and Rett for being on the Rising Strength Blue Ridge Relay team and making it such an incredible experience! Thank you to our sponsors Interstate Container, Evco, Team Kattouf, OralID, Appalachian Federal Community Credit Union, Tri-Cities Nisan and Broyles Florist .


In the days leading up to the relay, I had the opportunity to speak to the female athletes at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN and to a high school class at Happy Valley High School in Elizabethton, TN. I was blown away with how attentive the students were at both schools and the great questions that they had for me. There is so much negativity constantly portrayed in our media about the general apathy and indifference of our generation. It was refreshing to be around young students who prove those negative sentiments false. Thank you to the student athletes at Tusculum College and Happy Valley High School for your attention, kindness and thought provoking questions it was a joy to spend time with you and share my story.

Thank you Jenna Handshoe for setting up the talk at Tusculum College.  Your athletes along with the other team present are wonderful and it was an honor to spend time with them.

Thank you Jenna Handshoe for setting up the talk at Tusculum College. Your athletes along with the other teams that were present are wonderful and it was an honor to spend time with them.

Thank you Adam Copeland for setting up the talk with your students.  I enjoyed speaking with your students and was so impressed with their questions and contributions to the talk.  Your students are very lucky to have a teacher who cares not only about their education but their safety.  Thank you for having me!

Thank you Adam Copeland for setting up the talk with your students. I enjoyed speaking with your students and was so impressed with their questions and contributions to the talk. Your students are very lucky to have a teacher who cares not only about their education but their safety. Thank you for having me!

Back to the Blue Ridge


This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Urban reTREAT for Women in Johnson City, TN. The retreat was held at the Carnegie Hotel and hosted by Pam Morgan. We had an awesome day filled with yoga, great speakers and wonderful food! Thank you Pam, Jennifer Boggs, Shelly Bullock, Glynda Ramsey, Chef Heather, Susan Street and all of the ladies who attended and made the day so awesome!

We are are gearing up and getting ready to take on another Blue Ridge Relay. Thank you Ron Scott of Appalachian Community Federal Community Credit Union, Patt Evans of Evco and Interstate Container for sponsoring this year’s team! Last year was such an incredible experience and I can’t thank my team and all of last year’s sponsors enough! My former soccer teammate, long-time friend and current Blue Ridge Relay teammate, Beth Koloup wrote the following:

Last year I ran in the BRR, which was my first mountain relay. I am not a runner by any means, but I came away having one of the most fun, challenging, and adventurous experiences of my life. I met an amazing group of ladies (and one Erik) that were incredibly supportive and provided so much encouragement to each and every member of the team. I’ve stayed in contact with many of them and wouldn’t pass up another opportunity to relive it all again.

My favorite moment of last year’s relay was watching Rachel finish her “Mountain Goat Hard” leg, which was, in my non-professional opinion, the longest, most uphill, steep and dreaded run I’ve ever seen. True to form, Rachel finished like a champ, but it was the next moment, seeing Rachel embrace her Dad, knowing all that they’ve been through, that brought me to tears. It was one of those moments that I’ll always remember and be inspired by, especially when times get tough and I need to be lifted up.

Beth and I in Boone, NC.  We were about 12 hours into the race at this point!

Beth and I in Boone, NC. We were about 12 hours into the race at this point!

Personally, my favorite leg of the relay was my second, which began around 1am and required the use of awesome headlamps and totally stylish reflective gear. Once I got over the creepiness of my True Detective-like surroundings, it was so peaceful and cool to be in almost absolute silence (minus the occasional van passing by, on to the next leg–except for ours, which was probably halfway to Florida at that point), to only see as far as your headlamp would light in front of you (and the random one or two reflectors catching some light from runners miles up the mountain ahead of me), and to have to trust my memory (and the drawings on my arm) to make the correct next turn.

Of course, if he was up for the challenge, I wanted my boyfriend Teigen to share in the experience with me this year and he obliged… We’ll see if he can handle it! (at this point, I am not so sure…)

Almost finished the Mountain Goat Hard leg!  Can't wait to take it on again this year!

Almost finished the Mountain Goat Hard leg! Can’t wait to take it on again this year!

Can’t wait to take on 208 miles with another great group again!

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.

“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!


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.

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.

Rising Strength in North Carolina


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.


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!