Margaret Zylka House: Running in Her Shoes

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The past few weeks have been difficult for the running community as we endure the heartbreaking loss of Eliza Fletcher, who was abducted and killed while out for an early morning run in Memphis.

I started racing over 30 years ago in sixth grade, mostly on the back roads of Bullskin Township and the streets of Connellsville. At 15, I had my first encounter with a truck following me and the unwanted attention of two men on a side road. Unfortunately, I’ve had more fears over the years – according to Runner’s World, this is no different than 84% of runners. This same violence also afflicts my brothers and sisters of color.

I take many precautions: vary my routine, carry a weapon, mace and cell phone with Life 360, leave a detailed note for my husband every time I leave the house. It shocked my husband the first time I left him a note. He had no idea of ​​the steps women take every day to safely occupy public space with their bodies.

Over the years, I made sure to know the people on my path, those who would welcome me if something was wrong, those who watched over me. But on every run, I’m constantly assessing my surroundings, every slow car, screaming cat, or uncomfortable person. It shocked me when a neighbor stopped and handed me a reflective vest he and some friends had bought for me to stay safe. Having allies, especially male allies, makes a big difference in staying safe.

Be an ally. If you can use your power to make a situation safer, do it.

Despite good neighbors, many of us still have negative experiences. We have to assess whether the friendly guy who slowed down to say hello, or the oddly dressed stranger on the trail, is a safe person or a predator.

While proactive measures can be taken by women, the responsibility also rests with our communities. When children are raised to respect and value women and other groups, violence decreases. I am so grateful that my own children were raised in the days of Serena Williams, Simone Biles and the United States Women’s National Soccer Team.

As we witness the fruits of Title IX in the growth of women’s sports, boys still far outnumber girls in rate of participation in high school sports. Girls quit sports at a rate of 2 to 1 compared to boys in middle school. And yet we know that girls who play sports are much less likely to get pregnant as teenagers, more likely to go to college, and be successful adults.

Increasing women’s participation and exposure to sports is only part of the answer. Representation in leadership matters, too. When children, especially boys, see women as coaches, officials, sports directors and members of sports councils, it demonstrates women’s leadership abilities.

And while we can’t stop all the evil predators of violence against women, our communities can do better when it comes to looking out for each other: by being allies for the women in our community , investing in youth sports, especially for women, and increasing female sports leadership.

I ran for Eliza Fletcher on September 9, just like I ran for Mollie Tibbits, Vanessa Marcott, Wendy Martinez and for Ahmaud Arbery. Their stories should not only be commemorated; they should be the impetus for change, a legacy for the absence of violence for all bodies in our public spaces.

Margaret Zylka House is a runner, mother, coach and lawyer from Connellsville.

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