GJ author tells life story of overcoming assault
Lately, Dana Liesegang’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
Journalists throughout the United States (watch for a story in People magazine) and abroad have sought interviews from the Grand Junction author about her new book “Falling Up: My Wild Ride From Victim to Kick-Ass Victory.”
It’s easy to see why. Liesegang’s scrappy life story is equal measure spit and grit. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest in shifting family dynamics — an angry, hard-boiled athlete spoiling for a fight. Joining the U.S. Navy gave her a productive outlet for her tough determination.
But at 19, while stationed in San Diego, Liesegang was sexually assaulted by a fellow sailor and thrown off a 75-foot cliff. She awoke in a hospital, paralyzed from the neck down.
Faced with the iffy proposition of taking her rapist to trial or staying silent and remaining “service-connected,” meaning her medical bills and other care would be covered by the U.S. Navy for the rest of her life, the mentally and physically shattered Liesegang did not press charges.
Liesegang explained her reasoning in a passage provided by her publisher, Hay House. “I was barely nineteen and paralyzed from the neck down, hardly able to talk at the time, and not able to move at all to even look the advisor in the eye when I was given my ‘choices.’ I’d say I was definitely pressured to make the choice that the Navy wanted. I feel that most women and men who have been sexually assaulted are pressured in this way, using various methods and threats that are obvious or not that take advantage of the victim’s fears and vulnerable position.
“In more ways than one, victims are told they are at fault, that no one will believe them, that coming forward will ruin their lives, and that they should feel shame for what happened to them. We live in a ‘rape culture’ where it comes naturally to many — both men and women — to blame a woman for being sexually assaulted because of what she wears or the color of her lipstick or because she drank a few glasses of wine.
“In and out of the military, women are left feeling ashamed, blamed, silenced, and the crimes are covered up.”
Liesegang over the years reclaimed her athletic prowess, competing in multiple events in Veterans Games, including the DAV (Disabled American Veteran) Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado.
Liesegang co-wrote her life story with Natasha Stoynoff, a New York Times best-selling author living in New York.
I previously interviewed Liesegang about her essay in the anthology “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles — 101 Inspirational Stories of Faith, Answered Prayers & Divine Intervention,” which was edited by Stoynoff.
“Falling Up” is available at Crystal Books and Gifts, 439 Main St.
Laurena Mayne Davis: Last time we spoke, in March, you were finishing writing the book. How does it feel to have the book now in your hand?
Dana Liesegang: It feels like a breath of fresh air.
Davis: It had to be challenging, balancing your truths with people’s feelings. How have your family and friends received the book?
Liesegang: It’s been a challenge for sure. I love my family and friends and as of right now no one has read my book. Though there was a bit of turmoil the past two years. But all is well now.
Davis: This October was the 25th anniversary of your injury. If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself, just starting out in your recovery?
Liesegang: I wouldn’t tell myself anything, as I wouldn’t be ready to hear what my now has to say.
Davis: You encourage victims of sexual assault in the military to “share their experiences with someone they trust. It will help them shed the burden of shame, blame, and victimization.” Have you ever been asked to speak to military groups?
Liesegang: I have been asked to speak before groups, but it was before I was open about how I was injured. I am of course open to speaking to them now, and I hope that I am invited to do so. I feel that sharing my story will help them share as well — even if they haven’t reached forgiveness. I feel non-silence is the first step to healing.
Davis: You’ve been aggressive in your treatment: traditional medicine, grueling physical therapy, holistic therapy and alternative treatments, including three bouts of stem cell. What is your regimen now?
Liesegang: Currently, I am working out on a regular basis. I am swimming, cross-country and skiing, and walking with my crutches.
Davis: Are you still active in the Winter Sports Clinic?
Liesegang: I have been a participant at the DAV (Disabled American Veteran) Winter Sports Clinic since 1993, when it was in Crested Butte. Now it is held in Snowmass. This year, I am an official Nordic instructor. Thank you, Teresa Parks and Gig Leadbetter, for having the faith in me. The Grand Junction VA is the sponsoring VA of this event. I love all of my therapists, doctors and nurses here at this VA.
Davis: I am sorry about the passing of your friend, motivational speaker and writer Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, who wrote the foreword for your book. How does your work — and life — honor him?
Liesegang: By continuing to speak my truth and help others find peace in their hearts. Wayne was full of life and love. Just being in the same room you felt his loving energy. He was funny and kind. I ask myself now all of the time, “Am I being kind right now?” He said we always have a choice to be right or be kind. I do my best to be kind — and lead by example. I’m human and I fail at times. But I get to make a new choice right when I catch myself slipping.
Davis: The final path on your healing journey was forgiveness. How has offering forgiveness changed your life?
Liesegang: It has allowed me to accept me as I am, in or out of my wheelchair. Doors have opened where there were walls before. My heart is free to love myself and others more deeply.
Davis: What else would you like people to know?
Liesegang: I would like people to understand that anything truly is possible.