Why I Run: Laurel

Editor’s Note: The “Why I Run” Series is a three-part series featuring survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones who include physical fitness as part of their healing process. Join them on May 21st for the third annual Lace Up for RAINN 5K. Learn more and sign up to participate. Read Khadijah's story here.

Sexual assault survivor Laurel. She crosses the finish line at a race, holding her hands above her head as she runs.

Laurel is just one of hundreds who will be hitting the road on May 21 to support survivors of sexual assault through Lace Up 4 RAINN, an annual race hosted by RAINN. A survivor herself, Laurel says that her experience almost caused her to stop running altogether.

“Dealing with what had happened put a huge dent in my mental and physical shape, and essentially stopped my training,” Laurel said.

Laurel was training for a half marathon, but says that despite the pain she dealt with after being assaulted by an acquaintance, she decided to run the half marathon anyway.

“The whole time I was running, I kept thinking about what my perpetrator did to me and how he thought he had so much power over me,” Laurel said. “When I crossed that finish line, I started to cry because I felt stronger. I felt like I gained a bit more control and power over myself, therefore taking it away from the man who hurt me.”

After finishing her first half marathon, Laurel decided to continue running and signed up for a full marathon. Pushing herself to run faster and farther became therapeutic for her.

“Running opened up a whole new way of dealing with my assault,” Laurel said. “I saw therapists and went to group counseling, but running allowed me to be alone with my own thoughts while also working on myself, creating a healthier me both physically and mentally.”

Laurel also uses running as an outlet for her frustrations with reporting the assault. While her perpetrator was not arrested, Laurel finds that the confidence she gets from completing races gives her more satisfaction than sending her perpetrator to jail would provide. For her, healing came from finding something positive to take away from the experience and learning to love herself again.

“Running brought a sense of justice.” Laurel said. “If the legal system wasn’t going to give me the results I wanted, I would have to find them another way. That other way was within me.”

Laurel encourages others who are considering getting more active to start small and gradually increase the distance or intensity. When she first signed up for the half marathon Laurel didn’t consider herself a runner, but running ended up being a big part of her healing process.

“I started running after my assault to clear my head and also push myself further and harder than I ever had before,” Laurel said. “I run to remind myself of how strong I am and how resilient the human heart is. I run to prove to myself that I am not weaker because of my assault; I am stronger."

Join supporters and survivors like Laurel at the Lace Up for RAINN 5K on May 21st, either virtually or in-person in Washington, DC. Learn more and sign up to participate.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.

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