Four-tenths of a mile was all that stood between Casey Hilmer and home.
It was July 13, 2003, a sunny, sultry Sunday, just before dusk. After running up Spooky Hollow Road in Indian Hill, the slight 13-year-old turned right onto Given Road, her home stretch. Her dad, Steve, was on a bike a quarter-mile behind her.
Ahead, Casey saw a figure coming her way, an older teenager she recognized from her bus. She doubted he even knew who she was. She ran wide to accommodate him.
But 17-year-old Benjamin White was looking for someone to hurt, and Casey was a convenient target. He snatched her off the road and carried her into a nearby woods.
Her mind told her she’d never see her family again. Her will decided that would not be the case.
She screamed. He clamped a hand over her mouth. They grappled. A knife fell from his pocket. She grabbed it, he wrestled it back.
He slashed her face, neck and side, piercing her lung and liver, missing her jugular vein by a millimeter. And then, as he pinned her forehead down with one hand and put the knife to her throat, Casey kicked him away from her. He fled into the woods. Minutes later, her father was at her side.
I love you, Casey told him. I think I’m going to die.
Her father told her, “Casey, no one’s dying today.”
From that day on, in a very intentional way, Casey Hilmer was never more alive.
The attack had come out of the blue; she decided she would control the aftermath. Her efforts culminated this week when she spoke at a hearing before White’s release Wednesday after a decade in prison.
Those efforts began when Casey was just two days out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and, seated a few feet from her attacker, testified against him in court. “He had his moment. I was having my moment,” she says .
A month after the attack, she was back at cross-country practice at school. The slender, natural runner who could formerly pound out six miles without a thought was slowed to a rotation of five minutes running followed by five minutes walking.
But she was back and she was running. It was enough to prove to her teammates and her friends that she was OK.
But sometimes, OK takes a while.
For the next three years, Casey slept on a mattress in her parents’ room. For a while, she’d ask her mom to sit in the bathroom while she showered so she wouldn’t have to be alone. It took years before she was comfortable on the first floor of the home in which she had grown up. She’d see a psychiatrist three or fours times a week throughout high school.
As a kid, Casey was the driven, high-achieving fourth-grader who cried at a B-plus on a test. Now she was the teenager who had to make peace with a world where bad things happened without provocation. Where you could come within inches of dying,. Just fourth-tenths of a mile from your house.
“I’d always watched the news and ‘CSI’ so I never thought things like that couldn’t happen,” she says, “I just didn’t think it would happen to me.”
But while the attack had caught her off-guard, she knew where her center was. Running. Her family. Her self-confidence. The brutal truth about what had happened to her.
At 15, she spoke at events with personal safety expert Debbie Gardner. In high school, she ran cross-country despite three stress-fractures of her foot. At 19, she placed fourth in the Columbus Marathon. Throughout her teenage years, when someone asked about her scars, she spoke openly of the attack, beginning, “Beware. It’s a heavy story.”
Then, somewhere along the line, it became a triumphant one. “Every bad experience you have makes you stronger. It just takes time to show you how it made you strong,” she says.
Today, the University of Michigan graduate is co-owner, with her mom, Meg, of Power Ryde, a Loveland indoor cycling studio. She’s a certified yoga instructor, businesswoman, runner and philanthropist. Every Sunday, Power Ryde offers a “Charity Ryde” class, with proceeds going to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. It’s Casey’s way of paying back the care she received there a decade ago.
And her studio, where she leads workouts on tilting and RealRyder bikes and exhorts clients to exercise and self-care, is where she tries to pay things forward.
When people hear about the attack, they often tell her they couldn’t have fought back the way she did. She tells them she believes they would.
White, her attacker, was released Wednesday from prison and is living with his parents just a quarter mile from where Casey lives with her parents.
“It brings a new challenge, but I’m ready to face it,” she says. “I fought for my life 10 years ago, and I’m not going to let this ruin it now.”
View original article on cincinnati.com (Cincinnati Enquirer)