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As a teenager, I traveled overseas with nothing but an over-packed suitcase and a dream of leaving the remote Colorado horse ranch of my childhood for the big city.

No sooner did I land in France than a man with a big, very nice-looking camera around his neck approached me. He said he could make me a model. He promised me an exciting life of big-city living and a future that sounded too good to pass up, so I went with him and his friend.

They drugged me, took me to an abandoned construction site, beat me and raped me. They dumped me in a park in Nice three days later.

I didn’t tell my family; I didn’t tell my friends; I couldn’t. I felt ruined, and if anyone knew what happened, they’d know that about me. Understandably, I became very aloof. I became a loner. Over time I began to feel completely disconnected from people; I even felt disconnected from myself.

I did become a model and traveled the world alone for my job, which suited me just fine; I never had to connect with anyone on a deep level. One November morning, I walked down the street in New York City and saw someone in Times Square with a sign, “Repent or go to hell!” I thought to myself, “I’m already in hell.”

In that moment, it became clear I needed to start over again.

I realized that my being jaded and wary and dead was not punishing the men in France; it was punishing me. They took enough from me. I decided not to let them take any more from me than they already had.

So, I decided to just do something. What? I had no idea; I simply decided to do whatever presented itself and to follow whatever pathway seemed to alight in front of me. There is an old spiritual precept to which I clung, “Go through the open door.” People told me about classes and workshops; I took them. Someone recommended a book; I read it. A therapist was suggested; I went to her. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

In the process, I decided to turn my personal quest to find peace into something I could give away to positively impact the lives of others because – let’s face it – we all have things happen in life that we wish had not.

Eventually, after many years of study, I began leading seminars and coaching people myself. Initially I coached one person at a time and gradually began coaching people by the hundreds in live seminars. Today, eighteen years and 90,000 people later, I see the perfection in everything that happened to me as a teenager. What I went through enabled me to make a difference with people that I would never otherwise have been able to make.

I believe that each of us can find meaning in the difficulties that we’ve faced if we allow ourselves to embrace them, rather than wishing they’d never happened.

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Cheryl Hunter is a bestselling author, speaker and resilience expert who has coached and led personal development seminars to over 90,000 people since 1995. Cheryl is expert at swiftly moving people beyond devastating circumstances that would otherwise commandeer their life. She was drawn to her work as a result of her own life path; she overcame a traumatic, life-altering experience that ignited a strong desire to contribute to others.

Frequently called upon by the media, Cheryl is currently featured as the on-camera expert in a Huffington Post series, is a regular contributing writer for several national publications, and is the author of the bestselling book USE IT.

Cheryl believes in the transformative power of storytelling. She has been a screenwriter for film and TV under contract with such studios and networks as CBS, NBC, Paramount and HBO, and she's merged her seemingly-divergent careers around one idea: that a simple story, well told, has the power to change lives. She's parlayed that passion for storytelling into the three TEDx talks. Cheryl is honored to be a member of Maria Shriver's Brain Trust, a select group dedicated to bettering the lives of women.

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