Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped at 14 and held captive for months, doesn't regret what's happened to her, she told NBC 7 in her first visit to San Diego since her kidnapping 11 years ago.
"I don't want to say that I wanted it to happen, because I certainly didn't," Smart said. "But just because of what it's allowed me to do, what it's taught me, the people I've been able to work with and meet – because of that, I don't regret what's happened to me."
Smart returned to San Diego to speak at a conference about empowering women.
It's her first time back to the area since being held prisoner in a dry riverbed in Lakeside during her nine months of captivity.
Smart was just 14 when she was snatched from the bedroom of her family home in Salt Lake City by street preacher Brian David Mitchell. Mitchell will spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and raping the teenager while holding her captive.
Now 26, Smart spoke openly to NBC 7 about her terrifying experience and about how she's been able to find peace and joy after such a traumatic event.
"I know every one of us faces choices in life. We all have our hard times, we all have our good times, and it's really not what happens to us that make us who we are, but it's our choices that make us who we are," she said.
"It would have been very easy for me to not speak out, to try and regain privacy in my life," she added.
She said she is grateful to those who searched for her and prayed for her and has decided to give back.
She dedicates much of her time to the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to stop the victimization of children and gives hope to survivors.
Smart has a soft-spoken and humble disposition and exudes a sense of peace. She says her faith and the support of her family have played a profound role in her recovery.
She's working to help children understand that no one has the right to hurt them, no matter who that person is.
"It's not so much that I am reliving what I experienced it's really more the gratitude that I feel and sharing that," she said. "And it's knowing that by sharing my story maybe it will prevent another child from going through what I went through."
She spoke to NBC 7 about her feelings toward her captors and how she looks back on the ordeal. You can see more of the exclusive interview Friday on NBC 7 News at 4, 5 and 6.
Smart was scheduled to speak at the San Diego Women's Week at Harrah's Rincon Resort & Casino in Valley Center.