Op-Ed: ‘Are we as women safe to run alone? Are we safe alone, period?’

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Lauren Estes and Mandy Leonardi at the Freedom 5K July 4, 2023 (contributed)

Over the last two years, there has been a heightened number of attacks on female runners, which begs the question — are we safe alone? 

The Memphis case in which Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old mother and  teacher was found slain after her early morning training run, was one of several devastating and tragic events that made me question, ‘Are we as women safe to run alone? Are we safe alone, period?” 

Years ago, I would say yes. 

I do a LOT of things alone. Especially shop, train and exercise.

But running, which is supposed to be a fun way to de-stress and work on health and wellness goals, lost much of its all-encompassing luster following several senseless deaths of women who left their homes with the intent to be and feel better, only to be met by criminals who decided to take that will from them in the evilest of ways. 

From Eliza’s murder in September 2022 in the early morning hours in Memphis, to last month when 22-year-old college nursing student Laken Hope Riley was killed on her University of Georgia campus during a midday run, our world has taken a quick turn to the unknown when it comes to safety.

We as women want to share with others our take on the necessary precautions you need to take if you choose to run, travel or do things — alone. 

Avid Cullman runner and mom Mandy Leonardi said this is our new reality, so it is our job now to prepare and protect ourselves.

“I don’t think we can truly ever be safe alone with the evil that is in the world,” Leonardi said. “I think we can do more to stop the fear but never the threat. We need to make ourselves aware and truly learn how to fight for and protect ourselves and our running community.”

Sam Crawford, an Amsterdam native who now calls Cullman home, shared a few safety tips that she practices during her training and fun runs. 

“Always be aware of your surroundings,” Crawford said. “Trust your gut feeling; if something seems off, cut the run short and leave. Don’t stay to investigate what’s going on. Carry something you feel confident using. In stress it’ll be harder to focus, so taking a gun you never use or are not comfortable with might not save you. I highly suggest the knife ring from Go Guarded. It cannot be taken from you since it’s on your finger, so you just have to scratch, which comes natural, if you don’t know how to fight. Take your phone or something someone can track you with to know where you are in case something happens.”

Leonardi said she has been running for a little over three years, and she loves it.

“It brings peace to my heart and mind,” Leonardi said. “It is my quiet time with God. It is time I have gotten to meet some of my best friends. I love racing and running with friends, motivating each other. The running community is like nothing you have ever seen before. I love that my 6-year-old son has watched me and now wants to run with me; he loves to run in races now. Running has brought so much happiness and just pure self-love towards myself. It’s literally the best.” 

We, as female runners, urge you to practice safety. 

  • If you can’t run in numbers, then have a plan. 
  • Make sure someone knows where you are and have accountability in your starts and finishes. 
  • Have a weapon of some kind to protect yourself. 
  • Wear bright colors, especially before dawn and after dusk. 
  • Keep your phone with you if possible. 
  • Don’t run in areas you are not comfortable with or that are not well lit. 
  • If you see something or experience something that makes you question your safety – report it. 
  • Fight back if it becomes necessary, and fight hard. You ARE strong, you are a survivor. 

We are strong. We are all strong. 

We deserve to be and feel safe. So let’s take measures to create safety for ourselves. 

– Female runners 

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