The 'why' behind STRIKE for Vanessa


Losing Vanessa was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. She was my college roommate and one of my closest confidants, and I walked around for weeks and months following her death battling a mix of disbelief, anger, and despair. While dealing with the shock and pain of her attack, I suddenly became terrified to go anywhere alone--daily occurrences like a short run around my neighborhood or an uber ride suddenly felt cripplingly hard. But I also developed a subconscious fear, one that crept below the surface but was debilitating nonetheless: The world had suddenly become a terrifying place.. As someone who had previously looked at the world through rose colored glasses, this shift felt debilitating.

To empower myself, I tried searching for self-defense experts that taught practical techniques. While there are countless resources available, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing from the teachings that I stumbled upon. My biggest qualm: I could learn all the moves and mantras available, but I had an innate fear that if I ever came face to face with an attacker, I would freeze up. How would any mat tutorial protect me if I was paralyzed?

My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa’s spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Several months later, I started talking with a friend at a BBQ in San Francisco. We hadn't connected in a while, and she asked me if I was familiar Avtial Zeisler, the founder of the Soteria Method -- a unique practice of self-defense, fitness and empowerment for women. As soon I got home, I watched Avital's Ted X Talk. "Does fear of violence, fear of being victimized, or fear of anything for that matter prevent you from living your best life?" Avital asks in her opening. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Avital describe her own attack, and the method that she has created as a direct result of it. Her story not only resonated with me profoundly, but I was moved by her practical approach to self defense that went so much deeper than the mat. I knew that I had to do everything in my power to connect with Avital and hear more about her journey.

After reaching out via email,  I secured a phone call with Avital, and our connection was instant. Not only had she heard Vanessa's story, but she had commented to Good Morning America in the wake of Vanessa's attack, providing some practical safety tips for women looking to protect themselves while jogging. From our very first phone call, Avital was committed to partnering with the VTM Foundation, and although neither of us knew at the time what that might look like, we began holding bi-weekly phone calls with Caroline Tocci and Ashey McNiff, the VTM Foundation's co-founders. We realized that although our stories were different, our single focus was completely in sync: To touch as many women as possibly would with Avital's method and Vanessa's story. From this guiding principle, our annual mega-event was born.

Our first event in partnership with Avital, STRIKE for Vanessa, will be held on January 21st at Boston University, my and Vanessa's alma mater. Avital will tell the story of her attack first hand, teach the fundamentals of her STRIKE self-defense method, and empower women to use tools they already have to take self-defense into their own hands. My favorite part of Avital's technique is that it ends with a  visualization to cement the learnings, where women are challenged to picture a potential attack and formulate a hypothetical reaction. This practice of meditative visualizing can prevent the "freeze" that so many women experience after being attacked, and help them develop an authentic survival mindset or the street that can overpower their own personal limitations. 

Vanessa's favorite thing was to tell me about all the different ways she was going to change the world. Not a day goes by that I don't mourn the loss of not only my best friend, but all that she was going to do for humanity.  My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa's spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Please consider joining us early next year as we STRIKE for Vanessa on January 21st at Boston University, a 2-hour workshop brought to you by Reebok Boston. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit our event page: