Elizabeth Smart, Travis Mills share stories of survival, perseverance

SAGINAW (WJRT) - (09/21/18) - They are competitors in business, but united by their passion for the community.

Impact Saginaw is an effort organized by several local credit unions to showcase positive things happening in Saginaw.

Friday, the group brought two well-known speakers to The Dow Event Center to inspire the next generation.

Elizabeth Smart and Retired U.S. Army SSG. Travis Mills spoke to a group of 1100 students from Frankenmuth, Freeland, Swan Valley, Merrill, Heritage, Millington, Vassar, Reese, Valley Lutheran, Nouvel Catholic Central, Arthur Hill, and Saginaw high schools.

Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City, Utah home in 2002. She was 14-years-old.

She was held captive for nine months enduring daily rape and abuse. She's now a mother, wife, advocate, author, speaker and survivor.

Mills is a quadruple amputee and Vassar-native. He was badly injured while serving in Afghanistan in 2012, but works now to inspire other service members facing similar challenges through his foundation.

And while they lead very different lives, there are a number of parallels in their stories of strength, perseverance and grit.

Smart lives by advice her mother gave her shortly after she returned home in 2003.

"The best punishment you could ever give them is to be happy. Is to move forward with your life," Smart said.

Smart detailed her time in captivity, including the abuse by Wanda Barzee, who was released from prison this week.

While Smart did not address Barzee's release, she did talk about how she has moved on. "For me to give up now, that would be giving up 15 years of effort. That would be giving up 15 years of trying to move forward," Smart said.

Smart works to educate and advocate for victims of abuse and kidnapping in her home state, in Michigan, and beyond. "Every year over 800,000 children are reported missing. So is that happening here? Yes it is," she said.

She also encouraged the teens in attendance to speak up if they have been abused, and always remember they have value, despite any rough spots in life. "Yes, that may affect you. That may impact who you become, what you do, but that does not define who you are. Ultimately what defines who you are, are the decisions that you make," she said.

"Never give up. Never quit." It's Mills' motto and message.

He hoped students heard two important points in his speech. He quickly learned that he couldn't change the past, but he could control his attitude.

It started in moments after he lost portions of all four limbs in an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan.

"I just got hit by a bomb, I need your medic," Mills said about a conversation he had with a fellow service member on the day he was injured in 2012.

He immediately wanted medics to help his team.

The medical team used tourniquets to save his life in the field. In the hospital he was taken to immediately after the blast they ran out of blood trying to save him. He said some rolled up their sleeves to donate their blood when that happened.

He didn't give up. "As they pushed me down, I just kept trying to get up again. They finally said, 'look, Sergeant Mills, I don't know how you're still waking up, you need to go to sleep," Mills said.

Not only does Mills help other combat injured veterans through his foundation, he also travels the country speaking to groups and businesses.

"I let them know, hey, my problems are no more than anyone else's, we all have something we're facing, and it's just the way you have to look at things, you know, perspective based is what I go off from," Mills said. "When you find yourself facing some adversity, just keep pushing forward. Find the way around a roadblock and you make the best of any situation."

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