When Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour says you can't be defined by your past, it has the ring of authenticity.
Abducted from her home at age 14, chained and raped in a nine-month ordeal, she eventually escaped. Her captors are in jail: Brian David Mitchell is serving two life terms, and Wanda Barzee was sentenced to 15 years.
Twelve years later, Smart is now the head of her own foundation and travels the country talking about how she climbed out of a pit of despair, of feeling worthless. Speaking to 1,600 people Thursday at the YWCA of Rochester's 2014 Empowering Women Luncheon, she recalled what her mother told her when she returned home from the kidnapping.
"What these people have done to you is terrible and there aren't words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil these people are," Smart said her mother told her. "But the best punishment you could ever give them is to be happy. Move forward with your life and follow your dreams, do exactly what you want to do because by feeling sorry for yourself and by dwelling in the past ... that's only allowing these people to steal more of your life away from you and they don't deserve a single second more," reported the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y.
Married in 2012, Smart now lives in Park City, Utah. In 2011, she started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to bring awareness to predatory crimes against children. Last fall, she released "My Story," a book about her captivity and recovery.
On Thursday, she described how her mother's love helped her get through her abduction and assaults.
"I remember just sitting down ... I felt like what was the point in even trying any more ... I should just give up because I was now worthless, I was chained up ... and I remember my mom telling me that she would always love me, no matter what. It didn't matter where I went or the people I hung out with or the choices I made, she would always love me. It doesn't mean she would always agree with me or that my decisions would always make her happy but that she would always love me ... I remember that giving me so much hope and deciding that was worth surviving for, that was worth living for. Maybe nobody else would ever accept me back or maybe nobody else would want anything to do with me ever again. But that was enough," said Smart in her keynote address.
The Empowering Women Luncheon in Rochester is a major fundraiser for the local YWCA. It helps fund programs and services for local women and girls who are dealing with personal crises, including homelessness and teen pregnancy. Smart implied the YMCA was a resource to rely on.
"For as much evil and wickedness and bad things you see on the news all the time, there are that many good people out there and there are that many more people who want to make a difference and who want to see you happy and who want to help, so never give up," reported Time Warner Cable News of Rochester.