While sitting in the AMC Dine-In movie theater in the Anderson neighborhood of Cincinnati early last December, Maria Racadio struggled to put aside the thoughts eating inside her brain.
Two months earlier, Racadio was raped by a former Miami University student, who has since been imprisoned.
She had gone to the movies to take her mind off the stress of school, whether or not she would take a medical leave of absence and if the recurring panic attacks (recently confirmed by her PTSD diagnosis) would ever subside.
“I was really struggling with my PTSD and having panic attacks a lot, just generally not feeling safe, feeling like everyone was trying to hurt me,” Racadio said. “I was talking to my therapist about this, and she suggested that I try taking a self-defense class or some sort of martial arts in order to feel a little bit more empowered.”
This was on Racadio’s mind as she sat in the theater and started to watch “The Greatest Showman.”
“This sounds so cheesy but…the movie’s about how he has this dream about starting a circus and he follows that. And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I wonder if I should be doing something that I’m really passionate about.’”
It was during that moment in the movie theater that the idea for her company was born.
Racadio thought back to her therapist’s suggestion to seek out self-defense classes in order to feel more secure. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could raise money to fund free self-defense classes for women?” she thought.
“I came up with the idea for bath products [which] would be perfect, because then I could call it Kickback, because it’s like, ‘kick back and relax,’ but also ‘fight back, stand up for yourself,’” she said.
While Racadio ended up taking a leave of absence from Miami, she was committed to following through with the Kick Back Bath Company.
After securing a loan from her parents to jumpstart the company, Racadio spent the rest of December into January 2018 finding a third-party supplier for the bath products, getting a friend in graphic design to build a website and hiring a corporate lawyer for two hours to walk her through the financial essentials. The company officially launched in late January.
While the Kick Back Bath Co., a non-profit corporation, is not registered as a 501(c)(3) (the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code allowing federal tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations, 100 percent of the company’s earnings go toward funding free self-defense classes for women.
Racadio has spent the last 10 months selling bath bombs, shower steamers and soap by tabling in her hometown of Madeira, Ohio, in Miami’s Armstrong Student Center and after giving talks at local high schools. So far, the proceeds have funded four self-defense classes for over 100 women.
Kick Back Bath Co. partners with Tier-Two Defense, a company based out of West Chester, Ohio that employs Marines to help teach self-defense courses.
“It’s been extremely therapeutic to be able to feel like I’m doing something positive. I’ve always kind of had that mentality,” Racadio said. “I’ve always struggled with mental health.”
In high school, Racadio was diagnosed with several mental health disorders.
“At first I was like, ‘Well, why me? Why is this happening to me?’ And then, I was like, ‘No, there has to be some reason behind it. God has some purpose in everything,” she said. “I needed to figure out something to do with this experience that happened to me.”
So she decided to major in psychology.
She took the same approach after being raped and decided to try to understand the meaning behind her experience.
In addition to the physical training, one aspect of the self-defense classes that Racadio finds most beneficial is when the Marines play a slideshow demonstrating some of the mental defense tactics women can employ to stay safe.
“In my case, I was drugged at a bar and then he took me home and raped me. In that case, self-defense wouldn’t have been applicable, but those mental defense tactics — just being more aware of my surroundings,” Racadio said. “Not to victim blame, but the unfortunate reality is there’s bad people out there, but there are things you can be doing to protect yourself.”
Racadio will finish her undergraduate degree at the University of Cincinnati next semester. She works as a research coordinator on the psychiatric ward at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and hopes to get her PhD in forensic psychology in the next five years.
Racadio has reclaimed her experience in the best way she knows how: by helping others.
“It’s really healing for me…it really takes me from victim to survivor,” she said. “For a while I let him dictate my life and let that experience impact my life so much in a negative way. And being able to [say], ‘No, I’m not going to let that happen. I’m not going to let him take any more away from me.’”
“I definitely feel more in control of my life now,” she added.
During the sentencing hearing last February, Judge Michael Oster took the time to address Racadio directly.
“The judge had some really nice things to say to me,” Racadio said. “[He said], ‘Never, never let anyone take the power of your life and who you are away from you. If you refuse to concede that, you are in control, no matter what.’”
It was those words from Oster that have propelled Racadio forward.
“That’s really kind of the mentality I tried to take,” she said. “[The judge’s] words really impacted me and I’ve taken that to heart — in trying to stay in control of my life and not let him take that power away from me, and that control.”
A previous version of this article spelled Maria’s last name as, “Ricadio,” it is actually spelled “Racadio” and was updated to reflect those changes at 9:26 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2018.