'Central Park Jogger’ sharing message of hope

Survivor of highly publicized rape, beating to be keynote speaker at YWCA benefit luncheon

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

Published:

 

She’s known as the Central Park Jogger.

Trisha Meili was 28 and rising fast on Wall Street when she went for a run in Central Park April 19, 1989. Her body was found hours later in a shallow ravine. She had been raped and so brutally beaten a co-worker could only identify her by a ring she wore. It took months for her to recover from traumatic brain injury, which left her with no memory of the attack. She had to learn to button her blouse again, to walk again, and later, to run again.

If you go

What: YWCA Benefit Luncheon with keynote Trisha Meili, author of “I Am the Central Park Jogger.”

When: 11 a.m. Sept. 2.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

Cost: $40.

Information: Registration closes Thursday. Visit http://ywcaclarkc... to buy tickets, or call 360-696-0167.

In 2003, she revealed herself in the memoir, “I Am the Central Park Jogger.”

Meili, now 50, lives in Jacksonville, Fla., with her husband. She’s the founding chairwoman of the board of Achilles International, which encourages people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics. She serves on the board of Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut, where she underwent rehabilitation. She works with the sexual-assault intervention program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. And she travels around the country speaking about her experience. She will present the keynote address at a Vancouver luncheon Sept. 2 to raise money for the YWCA’s sexual assault program, which served 5,265 people affected by sexual assault in Clark County last year.

Meili spoke to The Columbian by phone about her message of hope and possibility.

You were so brutally beaten that you lost more than half your blood. Why do you think you survived?

There’s two aspects of it: surviving that night, and then the recovery. Holy cow, surviving that night — I have no memory of it. Maybe it is God’s grace. I’m so, so grateful. With the recovery process, I believe a big part of (surviving) it was the support I received from all around the world with prayers and thoughts and intentions.

How long did it take you to feel normal again, or did you ever?

What is normal? I’ll never be exactly the same as I was before the attack, and that’s something I think all of us who face challenges have to come to terms with. That isn’t necessarily a negative thing.

You continue to change and grow and evolve. I know my life is different now than it would have been if I hadn’t had that experience, but I don’t know what it would have been without it — better or worse.

I am so grateful for what I have today. I have a rich life. I’ve seen the power of the human spirit. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

It’s organizations like the Y that let people believe in themselves and say, “Look at what I can do,” and not focus on, “Look at what I lost.” This was so important for me in my recovery.

What role did physical activity play in your recovery?

It was huge for me. The first time I went running again was at the hospital with a chapter of Achilles International, which encourages people with all kinds of disabilities to participate in running. I could barely walk. I was just out of a wheelchair, but it felt so good. It gave me a sense of taking back something that had been taken away. It was no comparison to what I could do four months earlier. I just felt proud of what I could do. I didn’t get all caught up in, “Oh my God, I used to be able to run six miles and now I’m barely moving along this quarter-mile route.” That’s not how I felt, and that’s because of the support of those around me.

Seeing those accomplishments helped me to feel good about myself. That increase in self-confidence is such a powerful motivator to keep pushing to the edges of what you think is possible.

Why did you write your book?

When I spoke at rehab hospital in a quiet way in Boston, there was a man in wheelchair who asked me if I had been in a wheelchair. He said with such conviction, “You give me hope.” His faith was as powerful to me as mine was to him. That interaction convinced me to push to my edges and share my story.

One could say I took a long time with the healing and coming to terms with who I was, in a new body and a new mind, with those feelings of shame and not wanting to be judged, with being labeled as sexual-assault survivor or brain-injury survivor. The growth for me was realizing that I’m proud of who I am. I can’t control what people are going to think about those labels. This is who I am — and I’m proud of who I am with those labels.

What message do you have for survivors of sexual assault?

For the women in the community who are served by the Y — not just sexual assault survivors — it’s that despite the challenges they face, now they can do more than they ever thought possible, especially with the caring support services of the YWCA. It is important to share your story. That doesn’t mean in a public way or on TV or in the newspaper. The Y is a very safe, nonjudgmental place, and using their services does make such a difference.