On January 7, 2012, my cousin, Sherry Arnold did not return from an early morning run through the streets of her hometown of Sidney, Montana. She seemed to have disappeared into thin air, a very uncharacteristic behavior for this mother of two. I still get goose bumps when I remember the call I received that morning. I listened as my aunt told me of Sherry’s disappearance and the one, lone running shoe that had been found by the side of the road. My mind went to a dark place. My heart begged, “Where are you? Please be okay.”
We waited for six more days before we learned what had happened. Sherry had been violently killed by two male strangers, high on drugs, who had just driven into town looking for work. A senseless, horrific crime. A work of evil that stole a mother from her two teenage children, a wife from a loving husband, a daughter from two adoring parents, a teacher from her students, and a vibrant human being from all of those who loved her.
Then, in June, my heart sank again as I learned of another runner, Sarah Hart, who was killed while running alone in Kentucky. A mother of three, she was pregnant with her fourth child. Sarah, age 31, had started out running with her sister, but turned back alone when she did not feel well. She was robbed and killed on her way back to her car.
Sherry and Sarah’s stories have motivated runners worldwide to be more careful and to be increasingly aware of their surroundings. Many people stopped running alone altogether, or withdrew inside to the safety of their treadmills. Some took self-defense classes in Sherry’s and Sarah’s names. I know that I started to feel scared of evil lurking in a way that I had not before.
There are three common denominators of these two incidents:
- Running alone
- Being a woman
- Running in an area or at a time of day when not many people were around
Makes me mad. No, makes me furious.
I am going to make a confession here. Even after Sherry was killed, I still run alone – only about half of the time, and not in isolated areas or when it is dark. But, still alone. I also drive a car even though 110 people are killed daily in car accidents. I go to Target alone even though women have been abducted in such parking lots numerous times.
I may be going against the grain here, but I am not going to stop running alone. I will take every precaution that I can. I do this when I drive by wearing a seat belt, by not being distracted, and by assuming everyone else on the road is stupid. In other words, I’m aware of my surroundings and I drive defensively. I also run defensively.
We are never totally safe. We do what we do to minimize risk, then we go on living, unafraid.
Here are some other things to do to be safe – not just while running, but as we move through our busy days:
- Always tell someone where you are going.
- Stay on well-traveled and well-lit roads. Do not take short cuts through woods, poorly lit areas, etc.
- If possible, run with a dog, a group or at least one other person.
- Ditch the headphones.
- Bring your phone.
- If someone looks shady to you, cross the street or go the other way.
- Vary your routes. Do not be predictable.
- Know where you are going. Looking confused and lost can make you a target.
- Do not be distracted. Perpetrators specifically look for people who are not 100% aware of their surroundings.
- Consider taking a self-defense class. You never know when you might need these skills.
- Reconsider the ponytail. This is an easy thing to grab and pull.
- Have an air of confidence. Walk or run tall with your head up.
- Trust your gut. If something/someone does not feel right, it probably is not.
- Bring pepper spray, but keep in mind it can be used against you too.
- If attacked, do everything in your power to not be taken to another location.
People say it is not fair that women have to be more careful and are easier and more frequent targets than men. Fair or not fair, it is a fact. Let us deal with it the best we can while continuing to make efforts to take back our streets.
We can learn from what happened to Sherry and Sarah. While we need to believe that there is more good than evil in this world, we also need to not let our guard too far down. Their deaths should remind us to live passionately, yet safely and to cherish life before us. In the words that my sweet eleven year old daughter wrote about Sherry,
“I know when I see the sun shining, I see her beautiful smile. When I see thousands of million of stars in the night, I think of her gleaming brown eyes. Just remember when you say goodbye to someone, or even just a simple goodnight, treasure that wonderful time.”
Be safe out there.