The Speaking Olympics: Where I Spoke Eight Times in 11 Days

Not that there is an award for this or an international competition, but on April 13, I began a tear of speaking engagements from the northeast, to the mountain west, to the mid-Atlantic. My topics? Sexual Violence. The Language of Violence. The Need for Women in Football. Domestic Violence. And more Sexual Violence.

I spoke so much, the speaking muscles of my jaw, just below my ears, started twitching. And I had to stop speaking about … all of the speaking I did. So many of my friends and family wanted the lowdown on how this speech or that event went. If I could have pantomimed it, I would have.

On April 13, I spoke at UMass at the Women in Sports Journalism Symposium.

Then, I flew out to Boise, Idaho, to address some 300 members of the Football Bowl Association and the great need for them to diversify their ranks, and create an environment that welcomes and attracts women and diverse populations. I worked on that speech for four months, so concerned was I that I get it right.  I was flattered and surprised I was even asked to speak there because, well, the composition of the room did not make me hopeful they’d be receptive.

I wore a vest that looked like futuristic shoulder pads. (Photo courtesy of the lovely Gina Lehe)

So, after much practice and consultation with people I trust, I put on my mental armor, and my physical armor (see photo), and took the stage to give voice to some very hard truths about college football bowl games and the lack of women leading them. I mean, there’s just one female executive director in 41 bowl games.  Having prepped so much, there was little that could shake my confidence. But I stacked the first few rows with friendly faces, just in case. After 20 minutes of persuasive speech, encouragement and some chiding, my time there was finished. The response? Overwhelming and humbling. I heard from executives I admire, and met new ones I hope to know better. But the women, the young ones and the ones my age, who told me how much my words spoke their truths and frustrations, those are the people who touched me the most. I heard zero negative feedback other than one bowl executive grousing to a woman, no less, that while my content was good, my ‘tone’ was aggressive. That places him squarely in the  “you should smile more” category. I know. Change is hard and who wants to be called out on his B.S.? Life’s tough and dinosaurs are extinct for a reason.

Once I cleared Boise, I was able to fully focus on D.C. As mentioned previously, I, along with my Pathways to Safety International cohorts, descended upon our nation’s Capitol to raise awareness about the dire need for funding and services for Americans sexually assaulted or abused abroad.

Using the mirror as my selfie stick at Whittemore House

As I type this, I confess that I am STILL not fully recovered from the energy I expended there. I spoke six times in 32 hours, all of it, from the heart. I rehashed memories and feelings I don’t love to tap into all for the sake of connecting with each audience in front of me. Because I know, the only way to get people to care about this topic, is to get people to care about what I went through and what my fellow survivor Dulce Mange went through so many years back.


The experience was both exhilarating and draining. I loved meeting new people who want to help us. I experienced my first TV interview speaking on behalf of Pathways. I walked into the Russell Senate Building and shared what happened to me to Congressional staff and ex-pats. I sat on a panel after watching The Color Purple, to share what I know about how sexual violence disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. And I choked up, multiple times, because that’s how trauma works.

AFI’s The Color Purple screening in conjunction with AHA! Moment and Pathways to Safety International. (Courtesy of Rojas/Small Wonder Media)

When I landed back in Atlanta, I could not stop smiling. For the first time since everything happened to me, I am FINALLY doing the work I’ve been hoping and praying to do. I can see so many wonderful things falling into place, outlining a new chapter in my life, and I am so, so grateful.


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