Elizabeth Smart Says Her Ordeal Never Held Her Back

10/28/2009 AT 10:15 AM EDT

Elizabeth Smart addressed a conference whose topic she knows all too well – "Overcoming the Unimaginable" – as part of Tuesday's California Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women. As she has shown before, the 21-year-old proved herself composed, well spoken and even remarkably good-humored.

"I have just 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," Smart said of the living nightmare she endured seven years ago – when, in the middle of the night, she was kidnapped at knife point while asleep in her Salt Lake City home.

"We all have our trials, and we all experience hard times," she said at the conference and reported by NBC News on the Today show, "but I don't think we should ever let it disable us from what we want to do."

What kept her going during her ordeal, she said, were family and faith. "I know that we do have angels on the other side that we don't see. We're never truly left alone in our darkest hour."

Nine months after her kidnapping, Elizabeth was discovered walking in a city suburb with one-time itinerant street preacher and self-proclaimed prophet Brian David Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Barzee. Both have been charged with Smart's abduction, and Mitchell has twice been deemed incompetent for trial, delaying his prosecution.

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