What was supposed to be a dream trip for Hannah Gavios turned into what she calls “the worst nightmare one could imagine.”
Gavios, while in Southeast Asia teaching English in 2016, took a trip to Thailand. She stopped to ask someone for directions to her hotel, but the man turned out to be “a deranged local who tried to harass me.” The man, 28-year-old Apai Ruangwong, offered to guide her to her hotel and instead led her to a wooded area where he attacked and sexually assaulted her.
She managed to fight him off and took off running in the dark, not realizing she was heading straight toward a cliff. Gavios fell 150 feet and miraculously survived. But the fall had fractured her spine and she couldn’t move. In immense pain, she cried out for help. That’s when Ruangwong found her again and sexually assaulted her for 10 hours. She was finally saved by locals. (Ruangwong was sentenced to five years in prison.)
“I was partially paralyzed from the waist down,” the Bayside, N.Y., native tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was given emergency spinal surgery” at a Thai hospital. Doctors weren’t certain whether she would ever be able to walk again. “I was very determined to prove them wrong and to show that I will walk and be on my two feet.”
About 10 days after her fall, doctors asked her to walk 50 feet, which Gavios says was “exhausting” for her. But day by day, she started making progress and is now able to walk with the help of crutches.
One would think her horrific ordeal would elicit sympathy from everyone, but Gavios says that some strangers blamed her for what had happened to her. “’What was she thinking, traveling by herself?’” she says, referring to the sexist comments she would receive. “’She should always be with a man.’ Why shouldn’t a female be able to travel or walk around by herself? Maybe we should focus on teaching men how to behave rather than belittling women for doing things on their own.”
Gavios does say that she also wants to feel safe when she’s on her own, so she took up martial arts and Krav Maga, the Israeli military self-defense system. “Just so that I could still continue my adventures and always feel safe if I get into a dangerous situation,” she says.
While Gavios was building up her strength and making strides, she admits she was “devastated” to learn that she may never run again. However, all that changed when she saw pictures of people in crutches and prosthetics doing the New York City Marathon. She set her mind on doing the race on crutches and started training. Gavios says she feels confident and prepared for the challenging race on Nov. 4. “I’m just ready to crush 26 miles,” she says.
Although she has set her own personal goals, Gavios, who is a yoga instructor, also wants to help others. “I was inspired to also help other people with injuries or disabilities,” she says. Through her Team Reeve funding page, Gavios has raised more than $16,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which funds research for spinal cord injuries.
“Who knows? Soon there could be a cure out there for not just myself but 5.4 million Americans in this country alone suffering from paralysis,” she says.
In the meantime, Gavios realizes how incredibly far she has come. “If I had to go back to one of those dark days where I was feeling helpless, I would say, ‘Hannah, you’re going to get through this. You’re so much stronger than you think you are.’”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
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