NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - About six months after Trisha Meili had been brutally beaten and raped while jogging in Central Park in a crime that shocked the nation she received a New York marathon medal in the mail from a man she had never met.
She credits that act of kindness and thousands more like it from family, friends and people around the world for her astounding recovery.
“A note came with it that said, ‘This is for you as you come closer to finishing your own marathon,'” said Meili who has been known as the Central Park Jogger since the attack on an April evening 20 years ago.
The former investment banker has no memory of what happened that night or of the six weeks, including nearly two in a coma, that followed. Doctors doubted she would survive her extensive injuries, massive blood loss and brain trauma.
During her recovery she had to learn to walk, talk, use her hands again, and to cope with the emotional aftermath of a crime that symbolized urban lawlessness.
It took Meili 14 years to reveal her identity and write about her recovery in her 2003 book “I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility.”
She decided to speak about her ordeal, and to focus on her healing and recovery, to help others who had been sexually assaulted or suffered brain injuries.
“I thought if I shared my story it might help others who are going through any kind of life challenge,” she said ahead of the April 19th anniversary.
“The feedback, the response I get is such confirmation it was the right thing to do because people say to me, ‘Thank you for telling your story. You’ve given me hope.'”
After her recovery Meili returned to her corporate job but the New Jersey native eventually left to work for a non-profit group before becoming a motivational speaker.
In her speeches at brain injury associations, sexual assault centers, hospitals and universities she urges people to live in the present moment, rather than get caught up in what happened in a past that they cannot change.
“What I have learned from my recovery is that we can do so much more than we ever thought possible. I believe very strongly that deep within each one of us we have a resource to heal, or come to terms with whatever our situation is, and that other people, with their support, in different ways help to unleash that resource, that power to heal,” she explained.
Five youths were found guilty of the attack and served prison sentences. Their convictions were later vacated after DNA evidence supported the account of a jailed, serial rapist named Matias Reyes who confessed to the crime.
“I experienced an extraordinary level of violence but I also experienced an extraordinary level of human kindness and love,” she said, adding that the outpouring of affection helped her not to get caught up in resentment about the attack.
“Part of my healing is realizing that I am never going to know what happened that night. I had to accept that.”
Meili still cherishes that medal she received two decades ago, along with another one that she won when she crossed the finish line of the New York marathon in 1995.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Paul Casciato