HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Running has not always been a passion. I ran here and there as an adolescent for fun, but it was not something I needed.
When I was going through a divorce several years ago, I began running. I didn't run to lose weight I ran for the mental benefits. Anyone that has kids and goes through a divorce understands how your heart breaks when your kids aren't with you for the first time. I would put in my earbuds, blast my music, and forget. Forget about my heart breaking, forget about my day, my responsibilities, my fears of the future… I was simply freed of life’s difficulties, entirely by this one action. After all, that’s the magic of love, right? The ability to look beyond the bad, to see the good, and yet remain hopeful? It was exactly the love I wanted and needed, especially at that point in my life.
During this same year, I received a call one morning from a close friend of mine. She said, “Oh thank God! You’re okay!” I asked her, “what are you talking about?” She asked me, “Did you go running last night?” “Yes”, I said. “There was a girl that was raped by 5 guys at the park last night! You need to stop running late, it’s not safe.” I was in shock… I wondered, how close was I to being that girl? After this happened, I changed my routine and no longer ran late at night.
A LIFE AFRAID
Although I changed my routine, I was much more conscious of where and when I ran, but my love for it never wavered. Jump forward several years, I am now remarried. My husband likes to run, but not like me. I will run in heat, cold, rain, or shine. This particular day was very hot, pushing 90 degrees. My husband didn’t want to run outside, so he stayed home and hit the treadmill. I went for a run down to a local industrial park, most of it being undeveloped and surrounded by crops. As I was running, I was passed by a man in an old red car. I waved at him because he was looking directly at me but he did not wave back. I didn’t think much of it and just ran on. I began to round the next corner heading toward the circle of empty lots and could see the same crimson car circling the corner. Gut instincts, red flags, warnings signs, they all flared quickly in my mind. I tried to rationalize why he might be coming around for a second time… maybe he forgot something at work and this was the easiest route back. I settled on that. As he slowly passed once more, I glanced out of the corner of my eye. He was still staring at me. I tried to dismiss this yet again. I ran further into the undeveloped industrial park. Corn fields were planted on both the outside of the park, and inside the circle. Running further on, my heart sank when I saw his car coming around the corner for the third time. This time he drove so slowly I began to think in defense mode… if he stops, he looks like a larger man… I think I can outrun him. I quickly pulled my phone from the plastic case on my arm and as he passed his eyes were fixed on me… I felt violated already, even though he hadn’t touched me in any way. I watched him disappear around the corn behind me and I called my husband frantically. After trying him for the 5th time with no answer I called my in-laws. My father in law answered and without realizing it, I found myself crouched down in the corn field, hiding, crying, desperately telling him that a man was following me. He said “honey, I’m coming to get you!” I told him “wait, I hear him coming again…” I quietly wept because this time a smaller, second man was also in the car. I told Dad “I am going to run through the corn field to the end of the park. Hurry! Meet me there”, I begged. I ran through that cornfield like my life depended on it… because deep down I knew it did. My in-laws came, and my husband got out of the car and I collapsed in his arms crying and shaking uncontrollably. They went to look for the car so we could report it, but it was nowhere to found. Gone. Quietly vanished. Just like my freedom.
My life changed that day. I was not physically violated, but I was mentally. Prior to this moment I would run, and I was so free, I thought of nothing but the music in my ears, the ground under my feet, and my legs carrying me beyond frustrations and daily demands. When seeing a car with a man in it, I feel myself tremble. I hear a noise outside my headphones and jump wondering where it came from. I never ran alone after that. My husband got me a large dog so I would have a vigilant running buddy. She quickly became my protector. With her I could run and feel safe. But, anyone that loves to run knows, it’s just not the same as running by yourself. These men, whatever their intentions, stole something from me that day… they stole my freedom. I felt so caged after that day. My hobby, my release, my personal escape...had been extorted, my freedom held hostage. I now had to harness a dog, run alongside my husband or trail behind by daughter’s bike. Every step of the way, every day… I was confined. All these arrangements and requirements just to feel safe . Running alone was no longer an option.
LET ME RUN FREE
Two years later, 3 months from when I originally wrote this, I ran with my dog in the same industrial park. Green beans were growing in the fields that year. I often kept Rebel off her leash because she listened well and stayed close by me. She ran into the field, suddenly jumped straight in the air and yelped. Although I found no blood on her, she was limping the whole way back home and I’m sure she was bit by something.
As I drove home from work the next day I was trying to figure out how I could go running. Rebel was still favoring her hurt leg. My husband and daughter were gone to a soccer game. I needed to run. Not only was my work day overwhelming, I received a call from my daughter’s Assistant Principal that morning. She asked if Abbigail, told me what happened at the football game the Friday prior. I told her she hadn’t and she went on to say that a boy smacked her butt at the game. When she approached her and three other girls about it, they said “all the boys do it, it’s not a big deal”. I was so enraged! Again, I needed to run.
I got home and said “Screw it. I’m going alone.” This was the first time I’d gone without the dog or someone with me since the incident two years ago. I decided to just run on the road, because it was more populated. I ran close to my house and just like before, any time a car approached I felt my heart race if I saw a man in a vehicle. Then a car passed me and seemed to drive particularly slow, but again, I told myself I was just being paranoid. It meant nothing. It began getting darker so I decided to run back. I turned around and headed for home. In the distance I saw the same slow moving car coming toward me again. There was no sidewalk, so I was running on the road. I tried to fight off the fear that it was something bad. As he neared, he pulled away from my side of the road, but at the last minute, out of the corner of my eye, I glanced over at him. He was looking directly in my eyes and quickly swerved towards me. I jumped up on the curb and watched as the black rubber of his tires pushed against the rounded concrete. I immediately looked back and saw him slam on his brakes and once again I ran like my life depended on it. As I sprinted to my house panicked, nervous and afraid, wondering if he followed me and if he knew where I lived.
I reached my house, ran into my bedroom where my husband was and started yelling “I HATE MEN!!!” He asked me what happened, and I shared every scary detail. He said “Honey, I told you, you cannot run by yourself!” “I refuse to accept that!” I said. “This is mine! This is my freedom! It’s not fair that you can run. You can walk to your car in a dark parking lot at night. You can do so many things without fear that I, and so many other women can’t.” “Your right, it isn’t fair”, he said. I stormed out of our room and into Abbigail’s room and yelled “Hey! Do you have something to tell me ?” “No”, she said, and I again yelled “Umm... how about something that happened at the football game?” “No, I don’t know what your talking about Mom?” “How about the boy that smacked your butt? You don’t think you should tell me about that?” “Oh, that? All the boys do that, it’s not a big deal.” “Not a big deal? It’s a huge deal! It’s half of the reason why these men feels it’s okay to do the things they are doing to me when I’m running! If you don’t make them respect you now, they surely won’t respect you when your older!” “Okay Mom, I’m sorry.” “Listen.” I said, “The next time a boy does anything like this, you get in his face and say HEY DON’T DO THAT! YOU NEED TO RESPECT ME! Did you want him to touch your butt?” “No.” “Then he is violating you! If they don’t grow up knowing we will stand up for ourselves, that we will not allow them to treat us this way, they will continue to do it for the rest of their lives and ours!” “Okay Mom, I’m sorry. Are you ok?” I realized then that I was crying. Everything I was yelling to her, was all the concealed, buried, and sweltering emotions I stuffed inside. They were erupting from very soul, blistering and scorching, vibrant and loud, demanding to be heard.
I WILL RUN FREE
The next few weeks were rough. I spoke to people about what I’d experienced. In telling others my story, I heard so many more scary stories. I asked them if they were angry enough to do something about it. They responded with “what can you really do?” or “it’s just the way it is now and I’ve just adjusted when I run or walk”. I was profoundly unsatisfied with this as a solution. The guilt grew when I thought about how I’d yelled at my daughter for not doing something about the boy smacking her butt, and yet here I was… not doing anything. I needed to do something, but what, I didn’t know. I came into work one day and told a co-worker how much this was weighing on me and she said “So what are you going to do about it?” “I don’t know… but with everything in me I have to do something.” “Alright then,” she said “whatever it is, I support you.”
I began organizing this run to bring light to this issue, not to just recognize it, but to take action against it. With the money raised, we will teach girls in high school how to stay out of bad situations, how to protect themselves, and what to do if they are violated. Classes will be offered to all ages & all genders on what to do in if assaulted. We will research and review products and classes that are currently available. We will create a program for victims of rape to help them regain their lives and overall freedom back that was so brutally taken from them.
We all know this epidemic is real. It is easy to voice this, but will you take action with me? I began this story bound by the restraints disposed to me at birth. Inheriting the burden of being a female in today’s society. I refuse to accept that this is the way it must be, and as such, I am no longer asking for permission… I WILL RUN FREE!