In my work to help rape survivors move beyond symptom management and lead a full and reconnected life again I am used to meeting some kick-ass, bad-ass, inspiring women. Lisa Thompson, the CEO for Birmingham and Solihull's Rape and Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) is most definitely one of those women. She didn't just run a marathon. She ran 6 marathons. All at once. This is her story.
"The link between ultra-runs, any run over the 26.2 miles marathon distance and the empowerment of rape and sexual abuse survivors is not an obvious one. However, on September 3rd 2016 in Iceland when I crossed the finish line of the 155 mile 'Fire and Ice' race one of the toughest multi terrain races in the world, that link was most definitely made, and not just because I was fundraising for survivors' services: https://localgiving.org/fundraising/fireandice
What you rely on and discover in a hard 6 day challenge like 'Fire and Ice' is your inner metal, the steel that makes up your core and determines what you are made of. It is your metal that helps keep you calm when inside you feel afraid as you traverse a mountain side in treacherous conditions, where there is not a vehicle, road or another living soul in sight. It is your metal that enables you to dig deep when your body has sprung an early surprise injury on you, meaning that you'll be forced to approach the race differently and feel pain you hadn't expected. It is your metal that enables you to stay positive even when the conditions are dire. It is your metal that keeps you in tune with your needs, ensuring you make the right decisions for you to provide strength to power you through. It is still your metal that keeps you centred, positive and hopeful despite the almighty challenge ahead.
And, beyond any doubt, metal is at the very centre of every rape and sexual abuse survivor I know, far more metal than it takes for an ultra-runner to complete any race. The metal survivors have enables them to find reserves within them when they thought their absolute limit had been reached and it renders survivors with capability, strength and resilience that they probably rarely give themselves credit for.
To all the survivors who might be reading this, I want to say:
- Empowerment isn't about knowing that you can complete a difficult journey before you even set out. Empowerment is about hearing the self-doubt voices in your head but ignoring them and going ahead to start your journey regardless. When you take an empowered step it acts as a fuel that feeds you to take more steps, helping you to achieve. With the help of empowerment you will achieve things that your past self thought was impossible, moving you on to reach the goals and dreams that you have set your heart on.
- Be a good friend to yourself promising that you will find a way to meet your needs, even if at first you have no idea how to. Independence, self-reliance and sufficiency are important, but also allow yourself to receive the warm kindness, encouragement and support from others too as it will deeply nurture and feed you.
- Focus on how you will give yourself the absolute best, as you deserve nothing less. Make a vow that despite the deeply distressing and traumatic experiences you have been subjected you can and will learn how to enjoy and live life to the full again.
- Don't fool yourself that you have to feel or be the strongest to achieve. Some of the most resilient survivors I know are the quietest and the softest with the most self-doubt; however they go ahead and keep achieving anyway.
Therefore if you are thinking "I can't do that" whether 'that' is a massive dream you have set your heart on or a smaller step in the process of recovery, ask yourself "why can't you; why can't you do that?" If you are empowered and begin to take a step you can do just about anything! So from the young girl who used to finish absolute last in school cross country runs, and from the 'five feet one and a bit' ultra-running woman now, I am cheering you on and letting all survivors know that there are people who believe them, and believe in them!"
About Fire and Ice:
Fire and Ice is a 250km (155 miles) multi-terrain race held in Northern Iceland and is one of the toughest races in the world. Over 6 days competitors run, walk, crawl to the finish, carry everything they require for the race with them (food, water, clothing, emergency equipment etc.) and camp at the end of each race overnight in the cold Icelandic wilderness.
About Lisa Thompson:
Lisa Thompson has 26 years of experience of supporting survivors of rape, sexual violence and sexual abuse. Since 1999 she has worked as CEO for Birmingham and Solihull's Rape and Sexual Violence Project (RSVP). RSVP provides support and inspiration to children, women and men so they can make meaningful, positive changes following sexual trauma and live a future with hope and confidence.
Lisa also founded GINA, a small community interest company that creates events and opportunities for abuse survivors. Here she leads a survivors' running group so that women can feel confident and proud of their bodies again.
Emily Jacob is the founder of ReConnected Life, a pioneering whole body/mind/self approach to recovery after rape. You can link with her on Twitter here, and follow the Facebook book page here. If you'd like to support Emily's work to offer pro bono help to those who need it, you can donate here.