Last spring, Kelly Herron was just another runner logging miles at Golden Gardens Beach in Seattle, Washington. At the time, the RealSelf staffer was training for her first marathon when she stopped mid-run to use the public restrooms. After walking into a seemingly empty stall, Herron unknowingly stepped straight into her own worst nightmare.
An assailant was hidden inside the toilet waiting to attack her. As he pinned Herron against the wall, repeatedly punching her in the face, she fought back using moves she had recently learned in a self-defense workshop.
Despite the heated struggle, Herron eventually did escape and her assailant was convicted. She knows it could have been worse, but still suffered physical trauma after the incident including multiple bumps, bruises, stitches and a keloid scar on her face.
We sat down with Herron to talk about how she’s healed — emotionally and physically — after her terrifying encounter, why she’ll never quit running and how VBeam lasers helped her regain her confidence after the attack.
When did the attack happen?
The attack happened on March 5, 2017. It was a cold, windy, rainy day — very typical of the Pacific Northwest in March. I remember I waited until the warmest time of day, it was 1 PM and 38 degrees. It was my first double digit run, 10 weeks into my training plan. I was tired of running the same 3-mile loop around the lake by my house so I decided to go to Golden Gardens which was 4.5 miles away. The weather was miserable, but I was really proud of myself for getting out there to get it done.
How long were you running before you were attacked?
It was 4.78 miles. My Garmin captured the whole thing. I actually kept it going when I was in the bathroom, so my GPS picked up the whole assault which led to the Instagram post that went viral.
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My biggest running nightmare became reality- 4 miles into my long run Sunday afternoon, I stopped to use the restroom and was assaulted by a man hiding in a stall (that is my GPS in red lines). I fought for my life screaming("Not today, M**F**er!"), clawing his face, punching back, and desperately trying to escape his grip- never giving up. I was able to lock him in the bathroom until police arrived. Thankfully I just took a self-defense class offered at my work and used all of it. My face is stitched, my body is bruised, but my spirit is intact. #NTMF #fightingchanceseattle #ballard #runnersafety #marathontraining #womensselfdefense #myballard #fightlikeagirl #fightback #nottodaymotherfucker #youcantbreakme #instarunners #garmin #garminvivosmarthr
Did you see your assailant immediately after you entered the bathroom?
I thought the bathroom was empty. I used the first stall, which I deemed to be the cleanest because it was the “least obvious” choice. The door to the last stall was closed. There were no feet underneath. I didn’t know my assailant was hiding inside.
How did you ultimately escape during the attack?
I fought back with all my might, got in a couple good hits to his face and clawed his eyeballs. At one point, I got free for just a split second and kicked a lock on the stall door, trying to lock myself inside. But my adrenaline was so high that I kicked the door right into the frame and jammed it shut. He got in after me and pinned me down, repeatedly punching me in the face. From my back, I was able to get my hands on the other side of the jammed door and pull myself out from under him through the front of the door. I sliced my head open on the bottom of the stall door, resulting in the laceration above my eye that required stitches. I jumped to my feet and thought I was going to pass out, but heard a voice in my head saying, “You have got this. You are almost out. Do not quit!” With one last surge of adrenaline, I lunged for the door and escaped. I kept him trapped in the bathroom until the police arrived.
What was going through your mind while you were fighting back?
It’s amazing how many thoughts you can have in a survival situation. For me, time stood still. I thought about my older brother and how he used to pin me down and pretend like he was going to spit on me. I remember thinking, “This is going much better than that!” I thought about what my life would be like if I was raped and how I didn’t want anything taken from me. Three weeks prior, RealSelf brought in a self-defense workshop taught by Fighting Chance Seattle. I remembered some key things like, “If you think something is the right thing to do, don’t second guess yourself. Just do it!” That is why I kicked the stall door. I also remembered to hit with an open hand and that is why I focused on just hitting his face with my forearm. We learned to “fight like a savage” and be scary even if you are scared. That is why I immediately started screaming at him, “Not Today, M@therfuck*r!”
Did you have to be hospitalized afterwards?
I went to the emergency room. I actually tried to get in the rest of my run and run there, but the first responders convinced me otherwise. Clearly I was still in shock! I was just there for a few hours to get a basic work-up and stitches in my head, not much else could be done.
Tell me about the injuries you had after the attack?
I had deep contusions throughout the left side of my body from fighting on a concrete floor. I was completely covered in bruises. My face was really beat up and the cut above my eye was the worst. The emergency room doctor did a great job stitching me up. I suffered a fairly serious injury to my lumbar spine and walked with a limp for several months, which required four months of physical therapy. I also had mental trauma and PTSD. Thankfully, we have an employee assistance program that made it easy for me to find a trauma counselor and get the help I needed.
How long did you wait before scar treatments?
I’ve worked in the aesthetics field for about a decade and have always taken my skincare very seriously. After being traumatized, though, I couldn’t even take care of my stitches properly. I simply wasn’t capable of self care. I never thought I could be that way! It pretty quickly developed into a keloid scar. I talked to my doctor within the first couple weeks, but it was too soon to know how it was going to heal. I would fixate on it and relive the trauma over and over and I would become enraged. Every time I was in my car, I would look in the rear view mirror and just hate my attacker as I looked at my face. It was a couple months before I went to Pacific Dermatology to see what could be done.
What did you eventually do to make the keloid scar go away?
The scar was red and raised so we needed to treat both issues. Cortisone was used to treat the bump and VBeam lasers treated the redness. Both require time to work between treatments. If you overtreat with cortisone, you can end up with a dent or a moat, which is often worse that the original scar. I also used BioCorneum + Scar Gel at home to help reduce the appearance.
How long did the procedures take?
I believe I had about three treatments of cortisone and four with the VBeam laser.
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Supporting @faceforwardla for #GivingTuesday (via FB) Many survivors live with a physical reminder of their trauma because they can’t afford treatment. Thank you to @realself for excellent medical coverage and a website to help me learn about my options. Excellent work by Stacey Lynema, PA-C at @pacificdermandcosmetics ********************************************************************#Vbeamlaser #vbeam #pacificdermcenter #realself #survivors #faceforward #faceforwardla #traumarecovery #PTSD #nottoday #NTMF #medicalcare #swedishhospital #ptsdrecovery #assaultsurvivor #erdoctor #stitchesout #healers #fixmyface #transformationtuesday #medicalaesthetics #scartreatment
Where did you get your treatments done?
I went to Pacific Dermatology & Cosmetic Center where I go for my Botox. After my trauma, I had a really hard time trusting people and I did not like meeting new people, so I wanted to go to someone I knew and trusted. I saw Stacey Lynema, PA-C, MPAS.
What did the VBeam laser feel like?
The actual treatment was painless. I used to describe the VBeam as being like a baby dragon sneeze. It just zaps you for a second and that’s it. The cortisone injections were also very minor. I liked how much care was put into not overtreating. I was so anxious for it to be gone that I was pretty insistent, but I’m glad they convinced me to just be patient and wait for it to work.
How did doing lasers help diminish some of the emotional pain you suffered from this experience?
Every time my scar lessened, I felt happier. When it really started to go away, I started to feel happy for the first time since the assault. The scar was my greatest source of anger and getting rid of it was my greatest source of happiness. RealSelf helped me create and sell t-shirts with the GPS image from my attack and the battlecry from that day, “Not Today Motherf@#!er!” The initial proceeds went to Face Forward LA, an organization that provides pro bono surgical care to trauma survivors. It felt good knowing I could use my experience to help people who were in far worse situations than I was, or at least that I could raise awareness for such a worthy cause.
Do you still run today?
Yes. I never stopped running, even when I probably should have taken time for self care. I was so paranoid about how the incident would impact my training that I just kept going until my body broke down about a month later. I took a few weeks off to re-group. Then my mom and I went on to train for and complete the Chicago Marathon in October 2017. I have since become a Couch-to-5k running coach to help new runners because I know how empowering it can be to set a goal that feels impossible and then accomplish it. It is life changing!
What extra precautions do you take now to stay safe?
I run with open ear headphones called AfterShokz, which allow you to hear everything around you while enjoying your music. I occasionally carry a self-defense weapon, but I believe that the best thing you can do is to stay aware of your surroundings and be mentally prepared for the worst case scenario. The body cannot go where the mind has not been so, in thinking through what you would do if you were attacked and learning about how to defend yourself, you will be able to respond more effectively if called upon to do so.
Are you training for any more races now?
I started running in December of 2015 and I made a resolution in 2016 to run one race a month and did it, including four half-marathons and a 200-mile relay race with my RealSelf coworkers. I am currently training for the Honolulu Marathon this December. My current marathon training plan has me running anywhere from 25 to 50 miles per week but I’ve still got 16 weeks until race day! I am looking forward to running this one for myself on my own terms, not to prove anything to anyone except myself.