Friday, January 13, 2012

I'm Angry As Hell...Therefore I Will Run

Today the story of Sherry Arnold's disappearance while she was out for a run in rural Montana took the saddest of turns. Her body was found. Apparently the police and FBI have one suspect in custody and are questioning another. I've been walking around my house feeling a free floating anger and rage build inside of me. I am so bloody pissed. I am so sad for Sherry's family.

As expected, this sends a shock wave through the running community, particularly among women who immediately feel more vulnerable and scared. These cases of horrendous violence shake us up. As I wrote earlier this week, this event won't change my behavior. I feel I do what I can to protect myself, and I am unwilling to give in to creeps.

But the comments online that I am seeing seem to indicate the belief that there's an increase in the number of cases of violence against runners. Some people claim that the street and trails are becoming meaner and that there are more psychos out there waiting to get you as soon as you come outside alone or let down your guard. I'm not at all sure that that is true. I did a little research trying to find some data on violence against runners/walkers/hikers and I'm having a heck of a time finding anything beyond a few isolated stories which are, of course, outrageous and enraging.

These horrendous things do happen, but they are very very rare. We need to be mindful without blowing things out of proportion. We need to take reasonable precautions (and those may differ depending on where and who you are) without overreacting. When we overreact the bad guys win. 

When I was a junior in college the son of a prominent politician and judge in the area threatened to kidnap me. I went to a small private college in a tiny village in rural upstate New York. He was banned from campus (he was suspected of rapes which he was never convicted of), but there he was. He cornered me in my dorm while everyone else was in the dinning hall and told me that one day he would pick me up when I was out running. Then he allowed me to leave. I told only my friends about his threats. There seemed little point to do anything else since it would only make my situation worse. For a short time I ran only with my best friend along the bucolic shores of Cayuga Lake - but I couldn't always rely on others being with me. I remember the day I went out by myself again. I was terrified but determined. How dare that a-hole rule my life.

Did I put myself at risk. Hell yeah. Some would say I was stupid, I was lucky, I was foolhardy. But what's the alternative, always living in fear? I kept running and I even lived in that village for close to a year after I graduated and I ran everyday. Nothing ever happened. Something terrible could have happened. Something terrible can always happen. I went back there last year for my reunion and ran one of my old routes, and had a very strange feeling in my stomach. That was a difficult time for me as a runner and as a young woman.

Today I do what I can to balance safety with freedom. I don't ever run with an IPod, not because I don't think it's safe, but because I don't like being removed from my experience. I like to be aware of everything around me. Everyday some crazy, angry, aggressive and/or clueless driver tries to run me down. I run as defensively as possible. I've jumped into ditches, over fences, and once onto the hood of a car to save my butt. I try to be aware of things around me. But I can't kid myself into thinking that that makes me entirely safe. If someone wants to get me, they will.

I do what I can to be safe, but I can't stop doing what I need to do for my life to be rich and full and my own.

I hope that we can be sad for Sherry's family, and hold her in our thoughts and prayers -  and feel angry and enraged that this happened to her, without believing that this is what life has become. We need to be aware but not fearful. We can't look at everyone as if they're a potential murderer and psycho because that is bad for us and for our society.

Tomorrow I will run and I will dedicate my run to Sherry. I believe that the greatest respect we can show for a runner is to run.
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Update: Monday, Jan 16. Sherry's body has not been found. She apparently was the victim of a 'hit and run' accident. Authorities, friends, neighbors, and family are now searching through the rural Montana farmland for her body. 

6 comments:

  1. Well said. I often think we both think alike in so many ways.

    I like my iPod and I was thinking about it today. Of course, I never use ear buds when running with my daughter but when running solo, I love it. I know there is a lot of people that says that puts a runner at risk. Yes and no. I am not blasting music so loud I can't hear what is going on around me but I agree with you, if someone wants to grab me, they will. Ear buds or not. Honestly, just because I hear them doesn't mean I can out run them. I couldn't get away from the threat of being punched. I couldn't get away from the two large dogs. I was aware and did the best I could but I was also lucky.

    I know Sherry's story has touched many, including myself, but my hope is that it teaches us to really cherish each moment. Don't give up what we love. Try not to live in fear. Be safe but remember that life is indeed precious. It is making me think twice, not about running, but about patience. When my darling daughter recently had a tantrum for a moment instead of instantly getting annoyed I thought how lucky I was to be able to be with her....even in the rough time.

    I will join you virtually tomorrow in dedicating my run to Sherry.

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  2. I think by NOT letting them win; by going out there and doing what we do, the way we USUALLY do it is taking BACK our streets, trails, tracks, etc. I was also thinking of dedicating my run tomorrow to Sherry. I have never changed my way of doing things for anyone, but do take safety measures. It doesn't matter, man or woman, we can ALL be victims; crime knows no gender.

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  3. I made a bib to pin on my back in honor of Sherry for my half marathon on Sunday.

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  4. I will run for her tomorrow (our time).

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  5. When I started distance running in the late 70's, it wasn't unusual for people to shout the n-word and/or throw objects from their car windows at me. Some of my options were to stop running, run on a treadmill, change my route, carry a weapon, or learn to fight. Subsequently, I earned a brown belt in karate. I know at least one female who runs with a gun. At one point, she had to flash it to a couple of guys to let them know that she "meant business." It's sad that nice, peaceful runs sometimes become stressful situations.

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  6. My heart is heavy for the loss. We all risk it, everyday we head out, we risk it. Do I think we should be wary and careful? Yes. Do I think we should be fearful? No. I will continue to run, I will continue to do what I love...just as I know Sherry would have done if she were the one left behind to mourn and remember. I think people give the violence in the world too much power. We stop living life with joy and happiness- because we FEAR.
    If it happens. It happens. But I won't stop running...for "maybes". Sherry wouldn't have either.

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