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!



You have a remarkable gift that isn’t learned or taught. You have the innate power of instinct and intuition. You don’t need to think very hard. You don’t panic or obsess. You act.

Ben Sherwood

After the attack, people would often ask me “how did you get away”. I would answer that I was blessed and very lucky that I was an athlete and that I reacted the way I did. While this answer generally would suffice, internally I struggled with the question and wanted to know more. I became very interested in the traits that define survivors and have read many books on the topic. At the forefront of almost every book that I read is trusting your intuition and instincts.

I didn’t have a bad feeling the night of the attack but several days before the attack my dad was visiting and was locked out of the my house. My dad called me to say that he climbed in my bathroom window. He kept asserting that if he could get in anyone could get in that way. My dad wanted me to call my landlord and ask him to fix the lock on the window. I assured my dad that I would and briefly thought about someone breaking into my house through the window but immediately dismissed this thought. After the attack my dad blamed himself, he felt that the attacker was probably watching my house and saw my dad climb in the window. There is no way to be sure if the attacker saw my dad get into my house that day, but I believe that the message from my dad was a sign of what was coming. I chose to ignore it. I didn’t trust my thought of someone coming into my house. I rationalized. I thought to myself, I sleep with that window open all the time. Nothing will happen.

I was blessed to have been able to get away from my attacker unharmed. I’ll never forget the relief that I felt when investigators told me and my dad that the man who is believed to have attacked me was caught. Knowing that the man who had broken into my home by removing the screen windows and putting them in my neighbor’s yard and who then used my patio furniture as a step ladder to get in through my bathroom window and then proceeded to crawl into my living room to attack me from behind, would never have the opportunity to prey on women again was incredible. That relief was soon met by the devastating news that my attacker is a HIV positive paroled rapist who went on to rape two women in the days after my attack.

My heart was broken for the women who were not as fortunate as me to get away. I thought about what could have happened if my attacker had raped me that night and I survived. The investigators told my dad the violence and confidence of my attacker indicated that I was lucky to make it out of my apartment alive. But what would have happened to me if I had survived but would have been exposed to HIV? What would have happened if the attacker would have had a gun or knife? These questions still stay with me daily and were a huge reason that I started Rising Strength. I tell my story as a way to raise awareness for violence that occurs against women and encourage women to put their health and safety as a top priority. I also tell my story to encourage women to trust your instincts. I recently received the message below from a young woman I went to college with.

“I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are! I read your story about the attack when you first started rising strength and it was very inspirational and compelling. I never thought I’d find myself in a similar position. Recently a man came to our home and knocked on our door and because I didn’t know him I didn’t answer. He left but a little while later I noticed he has parked a little ways off and was walking back towards our house. I was already nervous but when I realized he was coming back to our house I felt paralyzed with fear and I remembered your story and I knew I needed to get out of the house. Thankfully I was able to leave before he broke in the back door. I was able to ID him for the police and he was caught. Since then I’ve been terrified to be home alone… Even during the day (that’s when the break in happened). When I feel scared and immobilized by fear I remember you and how you’ve overcome. I know my experience was nothing like yours but your strength and resilience are an inspiration to me.”

I hate that my friend had this experience, but I am so proud of the way she handled this situation and the way she trusted her intuition. I’m glad that my story has had an impact and helped my friend find the strength to react but her intuition, faith and action was what I believe helped her get out of a bad situation. She did everything right. She did not answer the door when it was someone she didn’t know. She checked back to see where he was. She was able to get through the fear and react to get out of the home.

If you have an instinct…trust it and act.

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 Marathon Finish Line
It’s hard to believe that it has been over a month since the Boston Marathon! I had such an incredible experience at Boston and enjoyed every moment running for the causes that are so important to me. I can’t thank my sweet college teammates and friends enough for surprising me with the video below! I was blown away by all of the support I received from my friends and family and couldn’t stop smiling the entire marathon! Thank you Jamie O’Day from the Oral Cancer Foundation for the awesome care package! It is an honor to support the OCF and I feel so lucky that I can help carry on my mom’s memory through an incredible organization like the The Oral Cancer Foundation. Thank you Go-Shake, Team Kattouf, and OralID for everything!

Thank you Bil for being the BEST and organizing this awesome video that made me smile and cruise through an entire marathon!  Love you!!

Thank you Bil for being the BEST and organizing this awesome video that made me cruise through an entire marathon! Love you!!


Less than a week after the Boston Marathon I had the opportunity to be a speaker at The Justice in Motion 5k in Jonesborough, TN. The Justice in Motion 5k raises awareness for the rights of victims and all proceeds go to local domestic violence shelters. It was an honor to be a speaker at the race and to be back in an area that I love so much! Thank you, Todd Hull and all of the organizers of the race for your support of Rising Strength. Thank you We Run Events and all of the runners that came out to participate. As a victim of violence it makes such a difference knowing that there are communities coming together to not only support victims but advocate for change.

Justice in Motion

As we get ready to start preparing for talks this fall and another Blue Ridge Relay, I can’t thank my friends enough for their support of Rising Strength and Carol’s Fight! I am so lucky to have such amazing people in my life who constantly blow me away with their friendship and love!

Thank you Meredith for being an amazing friend!!  Not many would come out and cheer ia friend in 40 degree, rain and wind while being almost 9 months pregnant !  Thank you for ALWAYS taking such great care of me, love you!

Thank you Meredith for being an amazing friend!! Not many would come out and cheer a friend in 40 degree, rain and wind while being almost 9 months pregnant ! Thank you for ALWAYS taking such great care of me, love you!

Thank you for the generous donation to Rising Strength!  We will use this towards the vans for the Blue Ridge Relay team, that will take on 208 miles again to raise awareness for the violence that occurs against women.

Thank you for the generous donation to Rising Strength! We will use this towards the vans for the Blue Ridge Relay team, that will take on 208 miles again to raise awareness for the violence that occurs against women.

“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!


“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:


Getting Started


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.


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


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

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.