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April Wallace: Book reminds runner of dangers on the trail

Women shouldn’t be afraid to run by April Wallace | September 22, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

I'm your run-of-the-mill fiction enthusiast. I read to escape. It's magical to step out of your life and into someone else's, to get out of your head for "just one more" page or chapter.

Reading is what I spent most of the morning doing on Sept. 13, 2015, right before I took the run around Lake Fayetteville that changed my life. On that sunny Sunday afternoon, a complete stranger chased me down on a public trail, tackled me to the ground and beat me repeatedly in hopes that I would lose consciousness. He then dragged my concussed and severely wounded self into the woods, where I got a glimpse into his personal delusions before I was able to call for help and escape.

The man was not only found and arrested, but tried, convicted and is a few years into a very long sentence.

These are not my first choice of memories to revisit when staying present in the real world, but they are necessary to recall from time to time to remind us what is possible in life -- even in our community that can at times feel idyllic.

So when I came to a certain part of "The Light Through the Leaves" by Glendy Vanderah, I was shocked and saddened to see a similar experience staring back at me on the page. It was a punch to the gut to watch Ellis, a character who had already been through so much, realize that she was a target, fight for her life and find a way out of the situation without knowing what became of her attacker.

It caused her to become hermit-like. She moved far away from people she knew, found a home removed from any neighbors, chose a low-key job and kept company with only a trusted few. I can't blame her.

Post-traumatic stress has done similar things to me. I used to grow shaky if anyone so much as walked by our house on the sidewalk, fearful that my attacker would somehow track me down. I couldn't sit in a busy cafe because people coming that close to me was unnerving.

When the man was arrested six weeks later, I was thankful at the time to get on with my life, not fully aware that it's never truly over.

I hardly ever go back to the lake. I found a different beautiful nature trail to run and twice was very pointedly followed by men until I raced to the nearest road, sheltering in the pure safety of other eyes around to see what was happening.

It's worn me down. I only use the stretch of trail that is right next to a road. It's not beautiful; neither is the car exhaust. But it's allowed me to form little alliances, people who always see me out and about and make a point to say hello.

Even still, I get men hanging out of car windows, leering, catcalling, slowing their vehicles or terrifyingly stopping to see if I'll get in. After what has happened to me, Eliza Fletcher and other women runners around this country, I'm beyond over it.

Should a woman's checklist before leaving home include dressing down, not going alone at any cost, always grabbing a weapon, tracking our location just in case, texting our loved ones details of potential predators and their vehicles? No.

The answer is not to hide ourselves away until someone can come with us. Instead, we need a community where going out on the trail alone is not an act of defiance or bravery. Let's keep this kind of violence relegated to fiction.

Print Headline: Danger isn’t just in books

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