On a hike with her friend Kristine Luken in the Mata forest, near the city of Beit Shemesh, the two were subjected to a brutal attack by two Arab terrorists, Aiad Fatfata and Kifah Ghanimat. The savage ordeal left Kristine dead, and Kay fighting for her life – spared the same fate only by playing dead despite the excruciating pain.
But now, just three years on, Kay is taking part in today’s JerusalemMarathon – a physical and emotional journey she hopes will serve as an inspiration to others.
Her initial decision to take part in the Jerusalem Marathon specifically was neither ideological nor political; instead, she wanted to give back to One Family, the terror victims support group which has helped her and thousands like her on the long and winding road to recovery.
“It’s taken me three years to get back into some kind of physical state that I can even think about doing any physical exertion of any length,” she explains. But the scars are still there. Despite once being a long-distance runner, Kay’s long-term injuries prevented her from taking part in the fullmarathon; instead, she will be walking 10 kilometers along the route.
For her, it is a formidable physical and mental task, but one which gives her a chance to share a perspective on life that is nothing short of inspiring.
“I like to joke that I’m in pain only when I breathe,” she says. “It hurts to jump, to breath, to yawn, to sneeze, to cough, to hiccup.
“But I have to look on the bright side: the pain is a reminder that I’m alive, so that’s how I choose to look at things.”
There is a personal, “redemptive” aspect to the challenge, she adds, for which she will need to draw on the same fighting spirit which she discovered that day in Mata.
“I had been stabbed 13 times,” Key recounts. “But I somehow managed to get up – with 13 punctures in my lungs and diaphragm, over 30 broken bones, a crushed sternum, dislocated shoulder… I managed to walk over a mile bound and gagged and barefoot through the forest.
“That was without a doubt the longest walk of my life – and it was a lonely, lonely walk because I thought I was going to die.
“So there’s something very redemptive in this whole marathon now because… my psychological rehabilitation has been all about doing things together with others, as part of One Family, the Jewish people.
“When there’s a terror attack it doesn’t just effect one person, it effects the whole people of Israel. So to walk now, not on my own, but to be a part of the Jewish people and to participate in such a beautiful event… has some kind of tikun olam attached to it. And doing it in Jerusalem – our eternal capital – what could be better?”
“We’re not ‘victims’, we’re survivors”: Kay Wilson One Family
More importantly for her, however, is to inspire others in a similar position “not to give up”.
“I want to believe that something good can come out of this… something meaningful. If people can see in me walking this 10K something that will inspire them then I think that’s beautiful.”
“People say we’re ‘terror victims’, but I say we’re terror survivors,” she insists. “And no matter how difficult life is if we take it one step at a time… that’s all we can do – and that’s the way to healing as well.”
“I really don’t like calling myself a ‘victim’. I was the victim of an attack, yes, but I choose daily to engage with life again… to enjoy life, to derive benefit from each moment.”
Although she is currently focusing on the Marathon, Kay already has an eye on her next challenge, and is mulling the possibility of a hike across the entire Israel National Trail – known as shvil Yisrael – which encompasses roughly 600 miles from the very north to the southernmost tip of the country, with a joint group of Jewish and Christian hikers.
It would be a fitting tribute to her friend Kristine, a Christian originally from Texas, who herself was killed during a hike on part of the trail.
Our conversation invariably moves to the topic of prisoner releases, and the familiar debate currently raging as to whether the Israeli government should be freeing convicted terrorists as part of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
The very idea, says Kay, would be “a huge injustice – to me personally and to Kristine’s family.”
“I don’t see any benefit to anybody because these people have not been reeducated. They still think that Jews are monkeys and pigs and should be killed, so it’s really just a case of releasing murderers back on to the street.”
But despite her strong feelings, she says she is determined not to let the prospect knock her off course.
“I know there are only some things I can control. I can protest, I can write letters… but I don’t want that possibility to just eat me alive, or to allow me to become consumed by another sort of terror – by hatred and vengeance.”
“I decided quite a long time ago that there’s no such thing as closure – I don’t want closure – but I can incorporate what happened to me into my life without letting it define me.”