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. **************************************
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.