TOOELE — Elizabeth Smart recounted Tuesday her experience while in captivity for nine months, and how a message of hope from her mother has helped her to put her life back in order after the traumatizing 2002 events.
Smart spoke at the Healthy Woman Anniversary Event at Tooele High School. She told of the terrifying trials she faced beginning June 5, 2002, when Brian David Mitchell abducted her from her bedroom, holding a knife to her throat and threatening to harm her family if she did not cooperate.
She said that shortly after her kidnapping, after Mitchell had performed a marriage ceremony and raped her, she felt as if she was unworthy of being loved ever again. But she remembered her mother having told her in the past that her love for her daughter was unconditional.
"She told me she would always love me, no matter what," Smart said. "And that was enough … I decided, then and there, that I would survive. I was going to do everything in my power to survive."
After a decade of healing, Smart approached certain aspects of her experience with a sense of humor. She said that in Sandy, an officer asked her after receiving multiple tips if she was Elizabeth Smart. She said she was.
"And what do you think they did?" she asked. "They turned me around and handcuffed me."
"I guess I was a pretty big threat — a 15-year-old girl," she laughed.
She said ... the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.
"I don't think there are many people who can say the second-happiest day of their life was spent in a police station, but I can," she said.
Smart said her dad came to the Sandy police station "crying, sobbing," asking if it could really be her. An emotional father and daughter rode together from Sandy to Salt Lake City to join the rest of their family. A dead cell phone battery prevented mother and daughter from speaking to one another for a time, but at long last, the family was reunited.
It was not until later, though, that Smart and her mother would have a conversation that would prove to be life- changing.
"She said, ‘Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible, and there aren't words to describe how wicked and evil he is,'" Smart said. "'He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back, but don't give him another moment. The best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.'"
"And that's exactly what I'm trying to do for the rest of my life, is be happy."
Smart focused on keeping trials in perspective and realizing that what may be difficult for one person may not be difficult for someone else.
"Nobody is trial-free, but we have a choice," she said. "We can choose to allow our experiences to hold us back, and to not allow us to become great or achieve greatness in this life. Or we can allow our experiences to push us forward, to make us grateful for every day we have and to be all the more thankful for those who are around us."
She said she has taken her experiences and used them in the best way she can — to try to help others who have struggled. She created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to fight child victimization, and said her ability to move forward and use her experiences to create something positive came in large part from her mother.
"I think about what my mom said — the best punishment I could give him is to be happy — and that's so true," she said. "If anyone is superwoman, my mom is, but I think so many people think the very same way about ... the women in their lives, and I think that women truly do have the power to change the world."
Smart was the keynote speaker at the event, sponsored by Mountain West Medical Center. The conference was designed to educate women on how they can "maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit" while keeping up with the demands of today's society.