Ride to Reach: Cyclist finds redemption after attack, assault - FOX 35 News Orlando

Ride to Reach: Cyclist finds redemption after attack, assault

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Diana Oakley never imagined she'd be afraid to ride her bike.

But on a 14-mile bike ride on April 28, 1991, her life changed forever.

She recalls being about 3 miles from home, coasting down a hill, when it happened.

"Right before I reached the bottom of the hill, I remember feeling really happy, like what a great day this is," Oakley said.

"All of a sudden, I felt something really hard hit the back of my head. It threw me off my bike. I skidded across the pavement about 30 feet."

Disoriented, she remembers looking up to an apologetic man in a pickup truck who promised to take her home to get help.

"Instead, he drove me to the woods, and he tied my hands up. He raped me," Oakley said. "I was with him for about three hours that day."

At some point, she remembers thinking the man would kill her.

"I kept asking him, 'Are you going to let me live? Are you going to let me go? I won't tell anybody if you just let me go,' " Oakley said.

Then, in a single moment, she realized it was now or never.

"Am I going to sit here on this blanket and just let him shoot me, or am I going to try to get away?" she said.

"I just ran as fast as I could."

But she couldn't run from the feelings after the attack.  

"The next three years after my assault were pretty bad," Oakley said. "I was drinking and doing drugs on a daily basis."

Her attacker eventually was caught and confessed to the crime.

"For years after it, I questioned him a lot, like, how could he let this happen? If there was really a God, why would he do this to me?"

She started writing, in a journal and blogging online.

"I can bring beauty from my pain just by sharing it," she said.

Now, more than two decades after the horrifying bike-ride attack, Oakley has come a long way.

"It's amazing to know that something I thought had ruined me and had changed me for the worse can, after 21 years, change me for the better," Oakley said.

Oakley is now a spokeswoman for the Victim Service Center of Central Florida. She travels the region speaking about her experience.

"That was another turning point in my life, deciding to take action instead of hiding behind it."

Another big turning point rolled around last spring.

"That was the first day I rode a bicycle in the bike lane since that day in 1991."

For the first time since she was 17, she biked 17 miles in an Orlando fundraiser to raise money and awareness for sexual violence. Two hundred riders joined the cause, including the daughter and ex-wife of her attacker.  

"Now I'm rejoicing, I'm helping people," Oakley said.

Her story, once personal, private and painful, is now a book called "Intended Harm," in black and white for the world to see how a bike ride changed her life forever.

"To get it out was very healing. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done: the saving of many lives," Oakley said.

Once paralyzed by pain, Oakley says she feels a sense of freedom. That dreaded date in April is more of a milestone.

"Now, when that day rolls around, it's almost like a celebration of how far I've come."

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