Central Park jogging victim providing inspiration in NH this week
MANCHESTER - Trisha Meili said it was strange to hear newscasters talking about her as she recuperated after being beaten and sexually assaulted while jogging in New York's Central Park in April 1989.
"I kept hearing about me," she said, along with pronouncements by experts that any improvement in brain functioning would come within the first year, with little beyond that.
It might be Meili's personality - "I'm a defiant person" - but she didn't believe them. "I kept seeing improvement," she said.
Initially, just the fact she had survived was considered amazing because of her injuries and blood loss.
But the honors graduate of Wellesley College, who has two masters degrees from Yale and worked for a major investment bank, wasn't about to wallow in self pity.
Meili, who is grateful for the therapy and support she received for both her body and her mind, not only wrote a book about her survival and recovery, but also speaks to groups about what helped her recover.
On Tuesday she will bring her message about surviving sexual assault and brain injury to an invitation-only group at the Manchester YWCA and Wednesday she will speak at Crotched Mountain in Greenfield at 3 p.m. The Crotched Mountain appearance is open to the public at no cost.
In a telephone interview, Meili said the brain injury in a strange way helped her recovery. "I wasn't filled with concern about what I could do," she said. Instead, she just kept doing things, including learning to walk and then run again, focusing on the present and incremental improvement.
That improvement, physical as well as mental, enabled her to run the New York City Marathon in 1995. The year before, she had acted as a guide for someone who completed the marathon on crutches, "That kind of gave me the idea," she said.
"It was just a huge symbol for me," she added.
She still runs, but at shorter distances. Part of the healing process was recognizing she didn't have to be exactly the same person as before, the compulsive runner. After wondering if she could run again, she said running any distance felt so wonderful. The difference, she said: "I wanted to do it in a healthy way."
While Meili has been an inspiration to many, she said there was no one person who inspired her. Instead, she said: "I had so many people behind me, rooting for me, prayers. I felt that collective power."
Nonetheless, Meili understands getting frustrated with slow progress. Her message to relieve the frustration: "If you can, take charge. (Think) what can I do right now," she said,
"We get better at anything with practice," she said. "It's part of the cycle that I see. When you see a bit of improvement, you see the effect (of practice.)"
That is cause for more practice and more improvement, she added.
She said research into the neuroplasticity of the brain is showing that improvement is possible. Meili understands her role as someone who sustained severe injury, but has worked hard to achieve remarkable improvement.
She said she gives 15 to 20 talks a year to many different kinds of groups, raising awareness so people aren't confined and labeled, but motivated.
When she was undergoing group therapy, she said former patients came to visit. "It gives you some hope," she said, and that is what she tries to do.
The main point of her talks is: "Whatever challenge is in front of us, we can do more than we think possible."
Meili's visit is sponsored by Crotched Mountain, the YWCA New Hampshire, The Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire and the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention, all organizations that work with people who have suffered brain injuries and sexual/physical assaults.