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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos courtesy of Lynn Altevogt Snider junior Rachel Maciejewski works with sixth-degree black belt Todd Sullivan in a self-defense class conducted for the Panthers' girls cross country team.

  • The Snider girls class served as a confidence boost of how to handle a threat and also how to detect when something is amiss.

Friday, September 08, 2017 1:00 am

Feeling safer on run

Snider girls team benefits from self-defense class

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

The Snider girls cross country team got a dose of reality over the summer when a teammate was confronted with a situation where she fought off an attacker.

This prompted Panthers coach Lynn Altevogt to reach out to Todd Sullivan, a sixth-degree black belt who had taught self-defense classes to runners at Three Rivers Running Company a few times this year.

“I reached out to him after that close call, but I'd been thinking about it anyway,” Altevogt said. “I just think it's something important for them to learn.

“We keep them in safe places, we know where they are at all times, everybody runs together. You can only keep them safe so much. I'd rather them be prepared especially if they're running on their own. ... I felt more comfortable (with them) being independent women as opposed to me coddling them and keeping them safe.”

From the very start, the girls were excited about it.

“I thought it was really awesome because one struggle for a lot of cross country runners is having to run by themselves and, especially girls, being worried about people trying to take us,” senior Mackenzie Freeman said. “When (Altevogt) suggested it, I thought it was a great idea because, by myself, I run in my neighborhood a lot and I get scared sometimes that I could be taken. Something like that could give me less anxiety about running by myself.”

For all the girls, the lesson served as a confidence boost of not only what to do in the case of a threat, but how to detect when something is amiss.

“We spent 20 to 30 minutes on lecture,” Sullivan said. “That's probably the most important thing: Talking about things, being aware, being unplugged. People are walking down the street on their cellphones, talking on the phone, listening to music. The person on the other end isn't going to be able to help you.

“If something doesn't feel right, just trust your gut and leave the situation, move, avoid it. If something's starting to happen, shut it down quickly.”

After the lecture portion, Sullivan was pleased with how well the girls got into the physical demonstrations.

“These girls were completely not bashful and were right in it,” Sullivan said. “They were unafraid, so it was awesome. They just lit up into everything.

“I'm sure it had a little bit more of a reality component to them. I'm sure that it helped. Being an athlete in general, that mentality transfers over into everything physical. They're used to working hard so they're not so bashful to get in there and start smacking around a little bit.”

The team was surprised about the versatility of elbows, knees and other body parts that can be used in self-defense.

“It surprised me how much we could stop someone,” Freeman said. “Using our elbows, we could put someone down. The instructor gave us maneuvers that if we're pinned down, there are a lot of great ways to get out of it.

“There are a lot of soft spots on someone that we could hit like on their face and their abdomen. If we hit them, they can be stopped for a little bit and (the attacker may) even be surprised that we're fighting back.”

There are strength in numbers, and with more teammates being aware and having the skills to fight off potential threats, the Panthers are safer as a group.

“It's made me way more aware so when I'm going running, I'm not just running,” junior Rachel Maciejewski said. “I'm also taking in what's around me and all the things that are happening.

“It's not just about fighting them, but also about getting away as fast as possible. Also looking out for one another so like when me and (teammate) Emmaline (Shoemaker) would run together, we can at least have that so one of us could run off and get help.”

If interested in a self-defense class, email Sullivan at