FLORENCE – On June 5, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her family’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
For nine months, the young teen endured extreme psychological, sexual and physical abuse from her two captors before being recognized and saved.
Smart describes those nightmarish nine months as nothing short of hell.
In a constant state of fear, forced drunkenness and weakness from semi-starvation while being held in a camp in the woods, she started to waver in her hope of being rescued. Meanwhile, the entire country looked for the blonde-haired teen. And after someone thought she was the missing girl one day when she was out with her captors and didn’t speak up, she truly thought she was done for.
But she wasn’t. Nine months after her kidnapping, Smart was found alive in Sandy, Utah , about 18 miles from her home, in the company of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, who were indicted for her kidnapping
And now the 25-year-old Smart is spreading her message far and wide to people, especially to women and parents, hoping to inspire and give hope to those who have been through or are going through difficult situations.
Her message is simple: keep going.
“Everybody has trials everybody and difficulty and I speak about not allowing them to control you,” Smart said in an exclusive phone interview with the Morning News. “Not giving into what’s easy, but to keep moving forward for something that’s worth it. I talk about that, I talk about my story, how I overcame what happened and what I did and what was useful for me.”
Smart will be sharing her message on Tuesday as the keynote speaker at the kick-off event for the Carolinas Hospital System Healthy Woman program.
The sold-out event at SiMT is the first part of the Healthy Woman program that will bring speakers and programming once a month catered to women. Smart will be talking about overcoming adversity and encouraging others to do so.
Smart knows she had a great life before her kidnapping and through the strength of her family and her Mormon faith, she said she has regained the control of it.
“I do share some details of what happened, I do think it’s very important to hear what happened and to hear that things do happen and also getting help you need and trying to get help you need are important steps in life in the healing process and preventing it from happening,” Smart said.
While traveling takes a toll on the recently-married Smart, who is taking a break from Brigham Young University to spread her message and work on her book, it’s an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up and a powerful message that she knows can help people in difficult situations.
“The most memorable moments are the stories from parents who come up to me who have children that have been kidnapped and come up and say, ‘Because of your story, I have hope my daughter or son will come home or we’ll find out what happened,’ and it’s incredibly humbling,” Smart said.
Physical and emotional health, as well as financial well-being and spiritual development are some of the topics the program will address on a monthly basis. By joining the program, through Carolinas’ website, women can keep up with and find information specific to them.
The program will serve an important demographic that hospital CEO Darcy Craven says is important, considering the role women play in healthcare.
“Women who make between 80 and 90 percent of all healthcare decisions, often balance careers, primary and secondary families, issues with parents and civic work,” Craven said. “We want to help them with information to make those decisions.”
Smart says her mother gave her critical advice on the healing process.
“The morning after I came home, she pulled me aside, she said ‘What he did was is he’s taken nine months you wont get back, but the best punishment you could give him is be happy and follow your dreams and be happy. But by living in past and re-agonizing over what happened, you’re just giving him more power and control over you,’” Smart said. “At that point, it was like waking up from that nightmare, and I made that decision early on, before going back and reliving what had happened. And that saved a lot pain and heartache.”