Her life is the very definition of something beautiful coming out of something ugly. Valerie Gatto was conceived when her mother was brutally raped at knife-point, and now she is Miss Pennsylvania, about to compete for the title of Miss USA.
It is truly a story of "beauty from ashes."
The 24-year-old beauty queen opened up about her story on Today, showing the determination of one family to take something that could have destroyed them and turn it into a positive thing. Valerie was raised by her mother and grandparents and has no idea who her biological father is.
Valerie's mother was 19 when she was attacked coming home from work on a busy Pittsburg street. A man with a knife, dressed in black, forced her behind some buildings where he raped her. She believes he intended to murder her, but the high beams from a passing car spooked him, and Gatto's mother was able to escape.
When she found out that she was pregnant, she didn't tell anyone at first. Later, she planned to put the baby up for adoption in order to give her baby a "better life" in a traditional family.
But everything changed at the hospital on the night Valerie was born, according to Gatto's online biography, when her extended family came to visit. Her great-grandmother said, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle." With the support of her family solidly behind her, combined with her strong faith in God, Valerie's mother decided to raise her baby.
Her family didn't hide the truth of her beginnings from her. When young Valerie started asking questions about her father, her mother gave her age-appropriate responses. "Something bad happened to me. A very bad man hurt me, but God gave me you."
Today, that story is part of what motivates Miss Pennsylvania to make a difference. Part of her mission is to speak to young women about sexual assault awareness and how to protect themselves.
"I believe God put me here for a reason: to inspire people, to encourage them, to give them hope that everything is possible and you can't let your circumstances define your life."Her life highlights the fact that Valerie Gatto was meant to be.
Ryan Bomberger, founder of the Radiance Foundation, was also conceived in rape. He was later adopted by a wonderful lady with a big heart. Bomberger has recorded a poignant song thanking his birth mother for giving him life, and echoing the truth that he, like Valerie, was "Meant To Be."
Like other people who are products of rape, Valerie has wrestled with some heavy questions. Many like her face discrimination and prejudice because of the almost foregone conclusion that women who are raped want to abort or would never want to keep a baby that is a reminder of the rape.
Juda Myers of Choices4Life writes extensively about the cultural attitudes that surround those conceived in rape. They are often devalued and even called the "spawn of Satan." Juda says that the life of a baby conceived in rape is every bit as valuable as the life of any other person.
Valerie Gatto is a shining example of the value of a life that was embraced, not shunned. In an interview with TribLive, the Miss USA hopeful described how her faith has been an anchor for her:
"I knew that God put me here for a reason and, although my circumstances weren't the same as a traditional family with the perfect white-picket fence, he gave me to my family and my mother for a reason. It really dwells with religion, and my spirituality and Christianity, why I don't let it define me. I knew God put me here for a purpose, and he's the reason my mother and I were saved. I want to do him proud and my family proud, and, if I did just sit there and think, 'Why did this happen?' or 'Does my father know I exist?' and be scared and let the fear of the unknown stop me, I wouldn't be living my life. He put me here to do great things, and I'm not going to let that stop me."On Sunday evening at 8 pm, Valerie will be competing against 50 other young women in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the title of Miss USA. Her life is a beautiful celebration that blossomed from something that could have easily destroyed both her and her mother. No matter the outcome Sunday night, Valerie Gatto is already a winner.
[images via bing]