#ColoradoStrong attack survivor: 'I'm a badass'

FORT COLLINS - She describes herself as "badass." A word 9NEWS almost never uses in print or on-air.

But it's Lydia Tillman, and she has every right to call herself that. She fought a killer and won. Nineteen-year-old Kenia Monge from Aurora was his first victim. His name is not important. All you need to know is he's in prison for life.

9NEWS Crime and Justice Reporter Anastasiya Bolton and Photojournalist Andy Buck have had the privilege of being a part of Tillman's life for two years.

She was ready to talk a year after the July 5, 2011 attack.

That night, Tillman was brutally assaulted, beaten, physically broken and left to die in a burning Fort Collins apartment.

In September 2012, 9NEWS caught up with Tillman while she was learning how to speak again. She also needed jaw surgery, after hers had been broken in the attack the year before. She's been either drinking her food or eating something really soft.

Watch her 2012 interview: http://bit.ly/1m33Sdm

That story moved the community to donate $65,000 towards Lydia's surgery, so she could eat again. Now, three years after the attack, Tillman can.


Tillman never meant to be in the spotlight, never wanted to be on TV and even after many interviews, she's still not super excited to meet or even eat together.

"I love this restaurant Fish," she said when we sat down in Fort Collins, at a place her friends own.

Being able to enjoy life, even a simple meal, is a gift. A gift Tillman is rediscovering.

"I love to eat," she said, as we ordered something small, but delicious.

She's not been able to really eat for three years.

"I'm super psyched," she said. "I missed everything. Besides really soft foods which gets boring."

Because of her broken jaw, she couldn't chew. And despite multiple surgeries to save her life, she needed an additional one to fix her mouth.

"All the stuff I've been through piled up, and the surgery was my breaking point," Tillman said.

But it's been 10 months since her surgery. She's slowly getting a handle on the fun stuff.

"I think life is better than ever for me right now," Tillman said. "Trying to figure out a new way to chew. It's all new."

Tillman is also getting ready for her next challenge. She already volunteers at SAVA in Fort Collins, the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center.

And she recently won a rare scholarship to become a Bikram yoga teacher.

"Bikram yoga has done so much for me. I feel like I want to share it," she said.

Lydia said the required 90 minutes of talking during class will be a speech workout.

"I'm really tired of playing the brain-injury card. We'll see if I last," she said. "Because even though I'm really tired of playing the brain-injury card, doesn't mean my brain is all healed."

Maybe it hasn't. But nothing has ever stopped Tillman.

Which leads us to the question: Who is Lydia Tillman? How does she see herself?

"Could I say badass on TV?" Tillman asked.

"I think you just did," Bolton answered.

"[I am] badass, truly happy, generous and kind, strong, smart, beautiful," Tillman said.

Being able to enjoy life again is a gift, and Tillman knows it.

"It's really hard to put into words the kindness and the support I've been shown for almost three years," Tillman said. "I don't know how to describe it, but everything: the smallest donation or a hug, I believe only well wishes make a difference. I want to thank everybody who helped me because I couldn't have done it without everybody."


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