TODAY   |  October 28, 2009

Elizabeth Smart: ‘We all have our trials’

Oct. 28: Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped in 2002 when she was 14, speaks out about her ordeal publicly, for the first time outside of a courtroom setting. NBC’s Michael Okwu reports.

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MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But let's begin with a now 21-year-old Elizabeth Smart speaking out at a women's conference in California . NBC 's Michael Okwu has details.

MICHAEL OKWU reporting: You know her as a girl, just 14 then. Now grown up at 21, Elizabeth Smart is lending her voice to inspire other women at a seminar entitled "Overcoming the Unimaginable ."

Ms. ELIZABETH SMART: I just have never let it hold me back and I have gone on to do everything so far that I have wanted to do. And I think that's so important.

OKWU: Elizabeth was poised, reflective and confident.

Ms. E. SMART: We all have our trials and we all experience hard times , but I don't think that we should ever let it disable us from doing what we want to do.

OKWU: At times she was funny, even as her mother, Lois , talked about the night Elizabeth was kidnapped.

Ms. LOIS SMART: That night it happened.

Ms. E. SMART: Well, so anyways...

OKWU: It's the first time Elizabeth has spoken publicly since testifying in a Salt Lake City courtroom earlier this month, identifying her abductor as Brian David Mitchell .

Mr. ED SMART (Elizabeth Smart's Father): I had no idea what she had gone through.

OKWU: In court, a cool and steady Elizabeth described how she was taken from her house in the dark of night and into the woods at knifepoint. "He said if I were to scream, then he would kill me," she testified. "After that, he proceeded to rape me." Mitchell , she says, forced Elizabeth to endure almost daily sexual assaults, chained her to a tree, forced her to take drugs and alcohol. That testimony, part of a hearing to determine whether Mitchell and his wife are competent to stand trial . The hearing continues next month. What she's overcome is unimaginable to most. Elizabeth says she was guided by family and by faith.

Ms. E. SMITH: I know that we do have angels on the other side of where we don't see. We're never truly left alone , in our darkest hour.

OKWU: For TODAY, Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.

VIEIRA: Talk about resilience. She really is an amazing young woman .

MATT LAUER, co-host: Every time I hear her and I've read what she's said, it's hard to imagine that she has held herself together the way she has.

VIEIRA: Through all of that.

LAUER: And I hope it continues that way.

VIEIRA: Absolutely.

LAUER: That there isn't some, you know, different outcome down the road. But she seems just incredible at the moment.