The 17th annual Loop the Lake welcomed a special participant, who stands out because of how she came to run in this year’s event. It’s a tale international in scope that, amazingly enough, ties the complex religious tensions of the Middle East to the beauty and calm of Lake Windermere, and tells of incredible human courage, strength and determination in the face of violence and adversity.
Dianne Reed is a survivor. Not the type one would normally encounter in the Columbia Valley, where many have survived debilitating cancers, car accidents, strokes and more. At the source of Dianne’s survival story is a terrorist attack, one that took place in Saudi Arabia eight years ago.
A trained social worker and counsellor originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Dianne grew up travelling the world because of her father’s military career. No stranger to foreign lands, she moved to Saudi Arabia in 1996 after her husband accepted a position managing environmental health and safety for the largest desalination plant in the Persian Gulf at that time. They had been there nine years when, one day, four Al Quaeda operatives entered the housing compound in the city of Kobar where they lived, armed with high velocity weapons.
“They killed 22 people, and I’m one of two survivors,” Dianne said softly with a wistful smile. “For the most part, they were very upset about the Western influence because Saudi Arabia, to many Muslims, it’s like the last bastion of Islam because you have Medina and Mecca, which are highly religious and important to the Muslim faith, so the extremists really didn’t want Westerners there — period… so it became very tenuous.”
Dianne had just returned home after the gym and was preparing to jump in the shower, when a friend called to let her know their lunch plans were cancelled — there had been a terrorist shooting nearby.
It was about 8 a.m. in the morning, and Dianne’s husband was already at work. She called him immediately to tell him the news, and he got off the phone in order to contact the American consulate. Then she heard bullets around her house.
“What these four did was target an American business first,” said Dianne. “They started there and then they came around… saw that the back gate of our compound didn’t have armed guards or any military presence to secure the compound, so they basically came through the back and started going house to house.”
She called her husband again, whose advice struck a chill in her heart.
“He just said, ‘Honey, if you go to the back where the laundry room is, there are no windows, it’s highly insulated back there and quiet,’ but then he said, ‘Or do what your gut says,'” said Dianne in a hushed tone. ‘And that inner voice that we all have just said, ‘Get out.’ I knew I didn’t want to be a hostage, that’s not me. If you ask anybody who knows me, that’s not how I roll. So I thought I would have a better shot of running away and dealing with that issue than I would for them to come in.”
Split second thinking took over when she heard the front door getting kicked in. Running out the back, Dianne was quickly spotted by the gunman because of her villa corner’s location.
“It was basically that fast; he just started shooting like a madman, I was like GI Jane, dodging bullets,” she said. Hit twice in both calves, Diane fell to the ground.
“He was about 50 yards away rom me and that’s when I did what I guess people think might have saved my life, that’s just me but I looked at him and said, ‘You idiot, I can’t believe you just shot me.’
“I don’t know if he spoke English but I think he knew in the tone of my voice that I wasn’t, if I ended up losing my life that day physically, I wasn’t going to be weak about it. I was going to be the person I always was,” said Diane, her blue green eyes flashing.
Then she put her head down, played dead for a few minutes, and when all she heard was silence, she looked up and the Al Quaeda terrorist was gone. It was then that she realized she was bleeding to death.
“AK47s are designed to do more damage as they exit the body,” said Dianne. “The damage was my right lower calf… I had a compound fracture of the tibia, I had no fibula left.”
After dragging herself to a security building in hopes that the cameras inside would let someone know she was injured, Dianne reached up only to discover the door was locked.
“It was like one of those I Love Lucy episodes,” she said. “That’s when I had my prayer, my moment with god, and I just thought, ‘I know who I am and I really don’t want to die here but if this is the way it is, that’s fine but I could really use your help’ — it was most sincere, it was coming from a place of faith.”
In that instant, a friend came around the corner with her two children and panicked upon seeing Dianne dying. Dianne remembers telling her what to do and soon she was inside the building with a Saudi security guard and a scarf around her leg like a tourniquet with an ambulance on the way.
The doctor who operated on her later told her husband that in the moment of her arrival at the hospital, she had two minutes to live.
He also reminded her of what she told him all the way up to the operating theatre.
“‘He said, ‘You kept repeating do not cut my leg off, do not cut my leg off.’ And he said, ‘You know what Diane, you fought so hard, I’ve never seen anyone who could be conscious losing 7.5 units of blood and still cognicent enough to speak.'”
Her fighting spirit convinced the doctor to do everything he could to save her leg.
“And we found out later in the States that if I had gone with the same injury to the States… they would have amputated the leg,” she said.
Dianne and her husband stayed in Saudi Arabia, only returning to the U.S. to visit family, then relocated to Abu Dhabi a year later in 2005, where they still live today. It was there that, after years of surgeries, that Dianne decided to do the 2010 Dubai Marathon.
“I remember thinking… 22 people lost their lives and a ten-year-old child died, I need to do something and it came to me,” she said. With the support of two close friends, she finished the race on January 22, 2010.
“I have never done anything that was so exhausintg and exhilarating,” she said.
Her connection to Loop the Lake came through Kimberley Dittrich. Kimberley, who also lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband and returns to Invermere every summer where she has owned a cottage for the past 20 years, had read about Dianne’s miraculous story, which inspired her to start doing the Loop the Lake half marathons after being a kidney donor. When the two women coincidentally met one day in a restaurant, they became fast friends and Kimberley invited Dianne to Canada to do Loop the Lake as part of her amazing journey.
Dianne is currently working on a book entitled Dying to Live: Surviving Terror in Saudi Arabia and wants to become a motivational speaker for children in the Middle East.
“I tell people the decision I made that day was already made for me, it was tied up in who I am as a person and it’s all about the values I learned from my family and what I try to teach kids,” she said. “If you automatically say, ‘No, I can’t do this,’ what does that say? You have to fight… And I think if you surround yourself by good people constantly, positive people who encourage you and who you can encourage, that’s part of being strong.
Tapping her forehead with her finger, Dianne said with a grin: “Just like the running, it’s all up here.”