Running shouldn’t be a death sentence

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Editor-in-Chief

Laken Riley did all the right things.

She ran in the daylight. She stuck to a popular route on the University of Georgia campus. She let her friend know when and where she was going.

And none of it mattered, because the 22-year-old nursing student was just the next woman in line to lace up her shoes and never make it back home.

In 2022, kindergarten teacher Eliza Fletcher left for her 8.2-mile run around the University of Memphis campus. She was found four days later with a gunshot wound to the head, blunt-force trauma to the leg and jaw fractures.

In 2020, nurse Sydney Sutherland went on a jog near Newport, Ark. Her body was discovered two days later, and she had been rammed with a truck, raped and beaten to death.

In 2018, University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts headed for a run in her rural hometown. She was found 34 days later, hidden under corn leaves and marked by stab wounds.

As I train for my first half-marathon and try to pack in 20 miles every week, I think about these women. After all, the ROAD iD that slides under my shoelaces serves as a constant reminder of the risk of crimes of opportunity — a risk female runners are taught to fear from the moment they step outside.

In a 2023 study by Adidas, 92% of female runners reported feeling concerned for their safety, while 38% reported having experienced physical or verbal harassment. Of the latter group, 56% received unwanted attention, 55% received sexist comments, 53% were honked at and 50% were followed.

How many women have to be murdered and harassed before we take their safety seriously?

In response to the 2023 study, Adidas released an ad called “The Ridiculous Run,” showcasing how absurd a run must become for a woman to feel safe. The woman is seen wearing loose clothing and one headphone, surrounded by other runners, bikers, skaters and a literal protective crew.

It’s crazy — almost as crazy as the fact that it’s true.

Women should be able to run in a sports bra with both of their AirPods without fearing for their lives. Women should be able to run alone on a trail without fearing for their lives. Women should be able to run in the dark without fearing for their lives. Women should be able to run without fearing for their lives.

My heart shattered when I read the news about Laken Riley. Her murder was the first homicide on the University of Georgia campus in almost 30 years, and it should serve as a humbling reminder that things like this can happen anywhere. The twists and turns of Cameron Park and the Bear Trail are certainly not much different terrain.

Women, be vigilant. Men, be conscious of your behavior when passing solo female runners. The running community is one of the most uplifting I have experienced, and we must come together to create a safe environment for everyone. I think we can all agree that women deserve to lace up their shoes without having to question whether they will make it back home.

Until that dream turns into reality, though, I will continue my ritual of taking a moment to look down at the ROAD iD under my shoelaces before I head out the door. Under all the usual information, like my name and emergency contacts, is a phrase: “ad majorem Dei gloriam” or “for the greater glory of God.”

I look down at it, and I pray — not for sunny weather or a personal best but for the simple chance to exercise peacefully in creation.

May the Lord bless Laken Riley.