Rising Strength at Miles and Stockbridge

Yesterday, we had an awesome day at the law firm of Miles and Stockbridge! I shared the story behind Rising Strength and LeCarlo Beaty taught a self-defense course to the female lawyers who work there. We reviewed basic self-defense and situational awareness. Thank you, LeCarlo, for again teaching a great and fun course!

I can’t thank my dear friend, Beth Koloup, enough for helping organize this class. Beth is a lawyer at Miles and Stockbridge and has been a tremendous supporter and advocate of both Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight. Beth is the epitome of a great friend. I could not have gotten through the loss of my mom and overcome the attack without the support of amazing friends like Beth.

Thank you, Eddie, for always being so encouraging and supportive!

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!!

Oral Cancer Awareness Month


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

First Year


“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.

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.

rising strength 7

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!

Big Sur GroupSanta Cruz

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!

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.