Watching the self-defence instructor intently, my hand quickly shot up. I had a burning question.
‘What should you do if someone is following you?’ I asked curiously.
‘Run,’ he answered simply.
I nodded, taking it all in.
My company had offered a free self-defence class for all employees. I walked to my car in the dark almost every day – so I jumped at the chance to learn how to protect myself against attackers. A keen runner too, I had a long-held fear I’d be ambushed one day by a predator.
Three weeks later, I set out in the rain for an early morning run. I zipped up my jacket, put on my ear-warmers, a cap and headphones.
After about six kilometres, I stopped to use a public toilet. As I washed my hands at the sink, a chill ran up my spine.
Someone’s watching me, I thought.
Turning around, I saw a hooded man standing near a cubicle. I opened my mouth to say sorry, thinking I’d accidentally walked into the men’s room.
Suddenly, he lunged at me like a wild bear. We both toppled to the ground as he climbed on top of me. My screams of shock were muffled and a rotten smell overcame my nostrils. His weight bore over me as I lay pinned to the dirty bathroom floor. Thrashing, I tried to wiggle out of his grip.
‘Not today, mother***er!’ I screamed wildly.
Adrenaline pulsed through me as I fought my attacker with all my strength. But he was fighting back just as hard. He punched me as I screamed expletives in his face. It left me dazed for a moment, giving him the opportunity to start undoing my pants. As he fumbled, a horrible realisation dawned on me. This man is trying to rape me.
Among the chaos, I remembered a tip our self-defence instructor drilled into me.
‘Aim for the face or genitals,’ he’d repeated.
I had no access to his crutch, so instead I scratched and clawed at his face. I managed to draw blood and he winced in pain. That bought me a single second to free myself.
Quickly, I commando-crawled on my elbows underneath one of the large bathroom stalls. But my attacker followed me inside.
‘Are you kidding me?’ I muttered in a panic.
Now I was backed into another corner with this psychotic man.
He must have sensed I wasn’t going down without a fight, so he resumed punching me in the face. As he struck me, I started to lose hope. I felt like giving up as the darkness began to close in.
Should I just go into the light? I thought hazily.
I couldn’t fight him off for much longer. But a tiny voice inside my head wasn’t letting me give up. Come on Kel, you’ve got this, it said.
As I was lying on my back, I lifted my hands to either side of the stall walls and slid my body out into the main area. Jumping to my feet, I scrambled out of the bathroom and into the crisp morning air.
‘Call the police!’ I shouted to passers-by.
While someone pulled out their phone, another man helped me lock the toilets with his carabiner.
As I waited, breathless, I caught sight of my reflection in a car window. I was so covered in blood I barely recognised myself.
When the police arrived, they kicked down the bathroom stall where my attacker was still cowering.
‘Please kill me,’ he kept repeating as they cuffed him.
I watched as he limped away, his face bloodied too from my scratches. He’d messed with the wrong girl.
After giving my police report, I headed to hospital where my injuries were treated.
I needed stitches above my eye, my arm was black and blue, I suffered a lumbar spine injury and had lacerations all down my body.
The flood of adrenaline had zapped all my energy and my lovely mum Nancy, 66, drove three hours to look after me.
‘I’m not surprised you fought him off honey,’ she said. ‘You’ve always had a feisty streak!’
The GPS tracker on my watch, linked to an app on my phone, had caught the whole thing and showed just how much I’d run to escape him.
Afterwards, I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep.
Finally, a year later, I faced my attacker Gary Matthew Steiner, 40, in court where he attempted rape and attempted assault.
Police said at the time of the crime, Steiner was homeless and already a convicted sex offender. He was given three years in prison.
In July last year, he died behind bars.
I never have to worry about him hurting me or another woman ever again.
Two years on, I credit my self-defence class for saving me that day. Now, I have partnered with Jordan Giarratano, the instructor who taught me my life-saving skills, for women’s empowerment and self-defence workshops.
I feel stronger than ever after this ordeal. I’m a warrior and nothing can drag me down.
Kelly has waived her right to anonymity.