This month marks 10 years since my attack, 10 years since being brutally gang raped on a summer night, 10 years since I was a 13-year-old girl who thought she’d been left for dead. But more importantly, it marks 10 years that I have been able to heal, figure out a path toward PTSD recovery, learn to live again, and discover how strong I really am.
Looking at me now, you’d probably miss the scars of what I’ve been through. You might see me as a college-educated young woman who appears to be as strong physically as she is mentally. You’d see one Spartan-tough individual. But there were times I could barely get out of bed in the morning, yet alone hoist myself over an eight or 10-foot wall.
Seven years ago, I was a teenager dealing with obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I was a high-school dropout struggling with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and the aftermath of the atrocity that is rape.
Like many victims, I’d kept my attack a secret from family and friends. Nowadays, when people ask me why I didn’t tell anyone, I can’t think of a valid reason. I just didn’t know what to say. I was confused and scared, and I didn’t think talking about it would fix anything. It was a mentality that infected everything else in my life. I was withdrawn and underperforming, and by the time I reached my sophomore year of high school, I had been expelled from four high schools.
Then I attempted suicide. I remember the day clearly: I was supposed to be getting dressed for school, but I had an impulsive feeling that I’d rather be dead than to go another day being different from everyone else. I opened a bottle of Benadryl, being that it was the most easily accessible medication I could find, and without thinking, downed it all.
The drug made my vision blurry, and started freaking out. This was it. I was dying. And in that moment, I realized that I didn’t want to. I wanted to live. I became violently ill and started throwing up, and to this day believe that is what saved my life.
I should have asked for help then, but I didn’t. I was too scared and ashamed of what I had just done, and I was afraid that seeking help would land me in a mental hospital (not to mention subject me to more judgement from my peers). So instead, I dropped out of high school.
It wasn’t until my younger brother began surpassing me in school that I realized I needed to do something with my life. I was tired feeling like I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or popular enough. I was ready to stop thinking of myself as the messed-up girl nobody wanted to be friends with, but not quite ready to go back to school. So I began taking online classes. It was an important step for me: Without feeling like I was being judged, I was able to really focus on learning. I began earning straight A’s, and the confidence boost allowed me to turn my attention to other parts of my life. I had a lot of work to do. Being 175 pounds at 5-foot tall qualified me as obese, so I began running and training. At first, I couldn’t even make it up the street, yet alone complete a Spartan Sprint, Super, or Beast. But I stuck with it, and eventually, I’d lost 75 pounds.
For the first time in years, I felt like I was in control, and I wanted to share my story with others. I’d come through my depression, and I thought I might be able to help other rape victims. My sister had been involved in pageantry, so I decided I’d try a beauty pageant. Being short didn’t help, and year after year, I lost. But this was part of my healing process, so I kept going back until a miracle happened: I won. On my twelfth try. In 2015, I was crowned Miss Massachusetts World and was finally given a platform to share my story.
I used the opportunity to advocate with elected officials in effort to change Massachusetts legislation. I met several times with Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito to discuss how we could better serve victims. I spoke with the Massachusetts speaker of the house, Robert Deleo, and mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh. In fall of 2015, I earned my certification as a rape crisis counselor with the Center for Hope and Healing. Much of my work revolved around making youth victims aware of the services and resources available to them following an attack; I managed crisis hotlines and traveled the country speaking at local events and conferences.
In 2016, I was ready for a new challenge. My trainer had run Spartan, so I decided to give it a try. I ran the Boston Sprint, and afterward I thought, “Holy crap, I’m never doing that again.”
But a few days later, I was already feeling different. I decided I could handle one more, and I signed up for the Boston Super. After that, I figured I should go for the Trifecta, and I signed up for the Killington Beast. That was the race that motivated me to ramp up my training. I’d realized that Spartan wasn’t just a one-time thrill. It was part of my new lifestyle of building myself up. I loved completing obstacles, proving my strength, and finishing races I never thought in a million years I’d even start. I was hooked.
I signed up for the New Jersey Tri-State Super and the Fenway Sprint. Spartan Race didn’t replace advocacy for me, but rather, racing and advocating complemented each other. When I ran the New Jersey Beast, for instance, I did it twice in the same weekend. The first time was for speed (I finished second place in my age group!) and the second time was for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. I ran holding an American flag to raise awareness.
One of my proudest moments in advocacy was earlier this year, when the U.S. Coast Guard asked me to present to their Uniformed Victim Advocates at Base Boston.
With the help of Spartan, I’m a new person. Being a survivor gave me perspective on life and led me to help others, while racing has allowed me to see the depths of my own strength.
To me, being a Spartan is more than just the mud, fire, sweat, and tears. It is about the spirit of resiliency that lies within each of us. It’s not only about overcoming the physical obstacles of race day, but also the unexpected obstacles that life throws our way. Being a Spartan is more than just a fire jump, headband, or trifecta. It is a lifestyle, the cultivation of our inner strength, and the relentless determination we all have to survive/
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