PROVO — Looking at Elizabeth Smart Thursday night, you wouldn’t know that she was in pain from a herniated disk.
If it weren’t for the announcement at the end of her speech, no one would have known she was in pain. By powering through her night with a smile on her face, Smart unknowingly proved to be just what everybody thought she was Thursday night — strong.
Smart gave multiple speeches on Thursday at Heritage School: one for the “This Girl” program that helps at risk youth recognize their worth and the other for their First Annual Heritage Heroes Fundraising Dinner.
“I think if you saw her interactions with the girls, you’d understand why we did this event,” said McKay Treanor, development director at Heritage School. “For us, Elizabeth is just a wonderful example of hope and perseverance and that you can recover from difficult things. And for our girls, it was amazing for them to be able to meet her … and to see how beautiful and inspiring she is and that’s exactly why we wanted her to be here.”
Smart, who was kidnapped from her bedroom when she was 14-years-old and held captive for 9 months, shared her experience with approximately 60 at risk girls who have been in similar situations or had other difficult trials.
“I definitely know what it’s like to be there, and one of the most heartbreaking things is to see others who are experiencing similar traumatic things and they aren’t able to move forward,” Smart said in a press conference. “They aren’t able to see how wonderful they really are, how valuable they are, … so I am deeply honored to be here tonight.”
After a fundraising dinner for Heritage School, Smart addressed a crowd of about 600 people on her keynote address, “Overcoming Adversity: The Elizabeth Smart Story.”
Smart shared her pivotal moment in deciding to not let her captors take any more of her life once she was rescued, which was inspired by some advice her mother gave her.
Her mother told Smart shortly after she was rescued, “Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible. … He has stolen 5 months of your life that you will never get back. And the best punishment that you could ever give him is to be happy, is to move forward with your life and do what you want to do.”
Being completely honest, Smart admitted that she isn’t perfect in following her mother’s advice, but it motivates her to overcome daily.
“I try to follow her advice. I’m a little imperfect at it, but then again what daughter is no matter how right mother’s always are,” Smart said. “But I try to follow it and I’m so grateful that I have.
“I’m so grateful for my experience. I’m not saying that I want to be kidnapped again or that I ever wanted to be kidnapped the first time. I don’t. I didn’t. But I’m grateful for what it has taught me, for what it’s allowed me to do to become a voice for so many people who don’t have one or who are scared to come forward and share their own stories. … I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say thank you enough for me or my family.”
In closing, Smart pointed out that to overcome a challenge or trial a person needs to make a choice to do so.
“We can work through whatever we’re faced with,” she said. “We can work and work until we overcome it, until we move forward, until we can be happy again and we can become what we want, or we can choose not to.”
And overcoming is something that Smart seems to have mastered, which was evident as she ignored her back pain and proceeded with her book signing after her speech.
Read more about what Smart had to say about the Heritage School event, her book and what else she is doing here.