Trisha Meili: A Living, Breathing Example of a Life in Celebration…

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Update: This Q & A with Trisha Meile was done in March, 2011. Ms. Meile remains a source of inspiration and support for other victims of sexual assault and brain injury.
Trisha Meili with wounded Iraq vets & running with Prince Harry in Central Park

For years she was known as The Central Park Jogger, but Trisha Meili is now better known as a remarkable woman of inspiration and spirit. Her book, I Am The Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility, reveals a woman who has taken some of the worst that life could dish out, and emerged not only strong and determined to survive, but to excel and share her experience to help others. Her unlikely survival to celebrate a 50th birthday, let alone go running with Prince Harry in Central Park for charity, is amazing and uplifting. Author and motivational speaker Trisha Meili recently participated in a Q & A with Fifty Is The New Forty – enjoy!

Q. You dealt with so much physical and emotional trauma as a result of your experience early in your life…what kinds of emotions did you have when you hit that milestone 50th birthday?

A. Perhaps because I had lost so much, I was filled with gratitude and joy on my 50th birthday! I am now so grateful for all that I do have: for the people around me (family, friends, colleagues and strangers), the beauty and calming presence of nature and for the opportunity to continue to learn and grow, regardless of my age.

Yes, my body doesn’t do all that it used to be able to and wrinkles do appear, but I try to accept this reality as part of the natural process of living!

Q. Do you feel you had a more unique perspective and outlook on reaching your 50th birthday than many women might?

A. You know, each one of us has had different life experiences over 50 years. So ALL our perspectives are unique. The beauty of this is that we can learn from each other.

Q. So many women hitting that 50-year mark are struggling with empty nest or a financial crisis…perhaps coping with divorce or aging parents or feeling like the meaningful part of their lives are over! Can you share your thoughts on the possibilities you see for this time in life?

My journey of recovery has shown me that possibilities exist for every one of us, whatever our situation is. Life is never perfect and it does sometimes require courage to explore those possibilities. I encourage people to look at what they do have, what they can do, and feel proud of that – feel good about that. Whenever I feel good about myself, it seems that anything is possible, especially when I direct my energy towards something I want to do.

I have also seen that when we face struggles or an adversity, we can feel helpless, out of control or like we have no options. By working in the present moment, we can ask ourselves, “What can I do right now to make the situation better?” Just by asking that question, we regain control. We take responsibility. That can change a feeling of helplessness into hope.

Q. Did you always have such an unstoppable spirit and positive outlook, or is some of that a direct result of choices you had to make during your recovery?

A. Growing up with two older brothers, I have always been determined! I strongly believe that something that led to my “unstoppable spirit and positive outlook” was having the entire world reach out to me through their thoughts, prayers, intentions and actions. Of course, no recovery was possible without the enormous skill of the medical and therapy staff all along the continuum of care. But I have always believed there was more.

I Am The Central Park Jogger By Trisha MeiliAll of the support I received, often in ways that I will never know, was confirmation that I wasn’t alone, that I had done nothing wrong and that I was not to blame. All this support gave me hope and affected the way I viewed myself. And that was to see myself as a survivor rather than a victim.

To me, the difference between victim and survivor is more than semantic. Being a survivor is an attitude, it’s a mindset. Seeing myself as a survivor allowed me to take responsibility. Not, of course, for the beating and rape, but for where I put my energy each day going forward. Taking responsibility for who I am, today. Taking responsibility to make choices to do things I never would have thought possible. We can’t always control external events that affect our lives but thankfully, we can choose how to respond to them. That is a tremendous power we should never forget we possess.

Q. You have done so many incredible things, from speaking to corporations and groups, to volunteering your time, to authoring a book of inspiration. What comes next?

I love what I am doing right now as I continue to share my message of resilience, hope and possibility. That message seems to resonate with a tremendously varied group. I’ve spoken to violent offenders in a jail as well as graduates from Harvard Medical School. I am grateful for being able to connect with such diverse groups.

One of the strongest messages I have learned from my recovery is to focus on the present rather than wallow in the past or wish for the future. This doesn’t mean to ignore the past or not think about the future. In fact, we can learn from the past and the only way to change the future is by working in the present.

Each new group I speak to provides me the opportunity to continue to heal as well as be touched by others who inspire me. And the opportunities never seem to stop. Through speaking, I am volunteering at a Women’s Center in my local community. Reaching out to others as so many reached out to me enriches my life.

Q. How did you celebrate your 50th birthday?

I had an absolutely fabulous 50th birthday weekend in New York City. My husband took me to the spectacular Broadway musical Wicked and I loved it! Its message to appreciate those in our lives who are seemingly so unlike us, so distant from us, touched me in a special way. I had wanted to see the show for a number of years, so it was a tremendous gift!

Later that weekend, I ran with Prince Harry in the Achilles Hope and Possibility 5 Mile Race in Central Park! Achilles International is an organization that encourages people with all kinds of challenges to participate in mainstream athletic events. I went running for the first time after the attack with an Achilles chapter at Gaylord Hospital where I was for rehabilitation.

I founded the Hope and Possibility Race with Achilles in 2003, the year my book, I Am The Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility, was published. The race celebrates all that those with challenges can do as they race with the able bodied.

We were overjoyed to have Prince Harry join us to support all the runners, especially our chapters of wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over 5,000 joined us that day, showing each participant that we can inspire each other!

The weekend inspired me to begin my 51th year with an enthusiastic sense of just what is possible