Just two years ago, Hannah Gavios lay injured after falling 150 feet from a cliff in Thailand — she didn’t think she’d live, let alone walk again. Now, she’s gearing up to complete the 2018 New York City Marathon.
On Sept. 1, 2016, Gavios fell from the cliff while trying to escape a man attempting to assault her in the southeast Asian country. As she fled the attacker, she fell and lay paralyzed. There, she was held hostage and assaulted for hours, she says.
She was later rescued but suffered a spinal cord injury from the fall. Gavios is now unable use her feet and toes, and her shins have nerve damage.
Her attacker was prosecuted and imprisoned.
“After the news of my injury, one of the most devastating things to hear was I’m unable to run, let alone walk,” Gavios, 25, tells PEOPLE. “But I needed to run again, so I thought the closest thing to that is crutching. I could participate in the race and use what I have to the fullest.”
Earlier this year, while still undergoing intense physical therapy, Gavios decided to participate in the annual marathon. She learned about Amanda Sullivan, who completed the race on crutches in the past, and was inspired to take on the feat herself.
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“I began training at the end of March. I’d just go out for an hour, the longest I’ve ever [crutched] is seven hours,” Gavios, a graphic designer in New York City, says.
“The best part of my training is getting into it and having fun with it. The hardest part is stamina, being able to keep it up for as long as possible. There are times I start to ache and my whole body hurts. But I proved to myself that I’m stronger than I think.”
Gavios has joined Team Reeve (of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation) and has raised more than $16,000 for the foundation, which supports people living with paralysis and funds research to find a cure. With the race just days away, Gavios says she’s “excited” to participate and start on her next challenge.
“I feel very prepared. I feel like finally the day is coming after all of this effort and energy,” she tells PEOPLE. “My long term goals are to run again. It’s not really over, I have more work to do and more mysteries to solve about spinal cord energy. I want to participate in the cause.”