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Olympic Medalist Kellie Wells Speaks Out About Sexual Assault


“‘Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it’ (Helen Keller). This is where we are coming from tonight,’” said Lara  Atkinson the executive director of MESA on November 7, at their annual fundraiser.

MESA, Moving to End Sexual Assault, is a nonprofit organization to serve Boulder and Broomfield counties in the treatment and prevention of sexual assault.

MESA has helped 36,000 survivors who have been affected by sexual assault.

The fundraiser was held at the Boulderado, a historic hotel in Boulder. District attorney Stan Garnett was among many of the well-dressed attendees. The event commenced with a barbershop quartet, brie, chardonnay, and a silent auction. Items up for auction included a six day African safari, a signed Colorado Rapids jersey, and lunch to share ideas with Stan Garnett and Joe Pelle. Although the expensive food and the high class guests were a bonus, hearing childhood sexual assault and rape victims share their stories was inspiring.

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Dr. Joanne Belknap, Reverend Donald Matthews and Olympic medalist Kellie Wells were among the survivors who shared their personal stories. Belknap is a professor of sociology at CU and works closely with MESA. She was the recipient of the “Bold, Brave and Beautiful Award” for her contribution to end sexual violence. Matthews is a professor of religious studies at Naropa University and author of  Pastor or Pimp: Sexual Abuse of Power in the Black Church. Both have contributed to the education and prevention of sexual violence.

The featured speaker of the night, Kellie Wells, shared her story of overcoming challenging circumstances. When Kellie was nine years old her mother and father divorced. Her mother remarried. Kelli and her step father got along well, until her mother moved her and her siblings into his house the town over and he began to sexually assault her. It began gradually and became progressively worse.

Despite these hurdles she faced at home, the hurdles she jumped over at her track meets led her team to their first winning season when she was 13 years old.  “I told people because it was my only option. I was running, running from everything. Running from what had happened,” said Wells.

When Kellie was 16 years old she moved out of her step father’s house and into her father’s house. Three weeks prior her step father had raped her. Two weeks after her move, and four days before the state championship, she arrived home late due to a car accident on her way home. The next morning she was woken by her father and the news of who had been killed in the accident. It was her stepfather who had been driving drunk. He had killed her mother and another 20-year-old driver in the accident.

Despite what had just happened, Wells was still determined to compete in the state championship. There she broke four meet records and won six events. She led her team to first place. “If you say you’re going to do it, you do it,” said Wells.

She buried her mother the next day. Kellie received a hurdling scholarship to Hamilton University and she is a two time All-American.

In the 2008 Olympic trials Wells tore her hamstring and was told she would never run again. She had nowhere to run, literally and figuratively– so she began to tell her story.

“When I got hurt I had no outlet. I couldn’t run. I looked in the mirror and saw something I didn’t like. I was in meaningless relationships looking for love. I couldn’t connect with people or myself. I looked in the mirror and didn’t see a 27 year old woman; I saw a 16 year old girl. I was surrounded by thousands of people and yet I felt constantly alone.”

Her experience is shared by other survivors. One problem with speaking out is that victims are sometimes not believed. Kellie felt that the media accused her of falsifying her story in order to gain fame. MESA cited research that shows only .005% of reported sexual assaults are false. The recovery process, when faced alone, can take years or even a lifetime. “ESPN has to say when I said I was raped– not when I was raped. They say “oh she’ll get over it”, but it literally hurts me. It took me eleven years to visit my mom’s grave,” said Wells.

“I’m here not to run, but to share my story. If I could save one life it means way more than my medal,” said Wells. Kellie Wells, Dr. Joanne Belknap and Reverend Donald H. Mathews shared their stories to help make a difference for those affected by sexual violence. MESA offers a 24- hour rape crisis hotline, counseling and emotional support.

“Running was easy– home was hard.” said Wells. Despite being sexually assaulted by her stepdad three days out of the week, she kept quiet for fear of her family splitting apart and being taken off her track team. The people who were supposed to keep her safe were the ones who were hurting her. Wells delivered the message that victims of sexual assault should not live in fear; when she began to tell people and get support, she began to feel better. “Its come to a point now, when I do look in a mirror I do love me,” said Wells.

Kellie Wells was able to recover from her injury and competed in the 2012 Olympic games and won the bronze medal in the 100 meter hurdles.

“I don’t tell my story to be famous– you can change the names and the sport, as long as you keep the story. If someone violating you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically– you have to know it’s not your fault,” said Wells.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a sexual assault please do not wait to contact MESA to get help.

Rape Crisis hotline: 303-443-7300

Victim services information:

Volunteering information:

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