February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
On a Sunday afternoon during a marathon training run, Kelly Herron went to use the restroom in a public park in Seattle. What happened next was horrific: A man, who was hiding in one of the stalls, attacked her while she was at the hand dryer. Herron fought back hard—and survived. Her employer had offered a self-defense class just three weeks prior, and Herron says the skills learned there are partly what saved her life. Her story rippled through the running community, with thousands of people from around the world reaching out to tell her she was a hero for surviving.
“The moment I realized I was being assaulted and what was happening was real, I screamed at my attacker, ‘Not today, motherf@#!er!’ I have never been so pissed off in my entire life; there was no room for fear in the moment,” Herron remembers. “I was trying to make him realize that he messed with the wrong girl…there was no way I was going to let him rape me, and I was willing to die to stop it from happening.”
Those four words have landed on T-shirts to benefit Face Forward LA, an organization that provides surgical care for assault survivors. “The shirt design is of my GPS lines from the attack, and on the back are the four self-defense tips I learned in class: Trust your intuition, respond immediately, be loud and fight hard, and hard bones to soft spots.”
It has taken Herron five months of therapy and physical therapy to get back to feeling like herself. By coming forward, her hope is that her openness “has empowered women to find that savage part of themselves that fights back—whether that is against a violent attack, or even against someone who is underestimating them.”
“Running as a vehicle for social change” is the mantra of Alison Désir’s Run 4 All Women team. Created earlier this year in response to America’s vitriolic political atmosphere, Run 4 All Women began as a single running event from Harlem, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., in the days before the presidential inauguration. That first team effort raised more than $100,000 for Planned Parenthood and has since expanded into a global movement that empowers women to demand equality, respect and recognition.
Désir, who also founded the running group Harlem Run in 2013, is a blogger for Women’s Running and writes openly about the importance of community and mental-health awareness. These themes resonate in her coverage of Run 4 All Women’s growth as she interviews the group’s American ambassadors and those who have adapted the program overseas. By late summer, the team had five official state chapters in the U.S., each of which hosted an event in mid-August. “Don’t let life happen to you,” Désir advised as she spoke to the Run 4 All Women team at the Capitol Building in January. “Stand up for what you believe in with whatever you have available to you. Be willing to sweat for it. Even better, inspire others to do the same.”