America’s innocent mid-century mythology, when neighborhoods were neighborhoods and the focus was on family, has long since been reduced to Tea Party yearnings and Toby Keith song lyrics. Today, the distance between threat and target has never been shorter. In fact, we’ve become a nation of fear, and perhaps not without reason. Thus do enterprises like two-time Olympian Todd Williams’ RunSafer program come into being in this early 21st century welcomed rather than lamented.
A man for whom the competitive fire burned brightly during his high school, college, and professional career, four-time former U.S. 10,000 meter champion and 15Km road record holder Todd Williams traded in his racing kit for Jiu Jitsu togs following his retirement from competitive running in 2003. In the ensuing eleven years the drive and focus Todd once summoned to earn 21 U.S. championships in running was transferred into the collection of Jiu Jitsu ranking belts. Over the years as Todd worked his way toward black belt status (2011), the idea that would become RunSafer began to take form.
“It began when I was selling shoes to running specialty stores in Florida and Georgia,” Todd recalled to the small group of women runners at the Movin’ Shoes store in Pacific Beach last Friday (he’d done two other classes at Movin’ Shoes, and made another presentation at UCSD, as well, while in San Diego). “I would see all these safety products like mace, reflective gear, but there were no techniques in self-defense. I really didn’t like selling, so I was looking for something that would combine my 30 years in running with my eleven years in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It was while driving back to Miami one time that the word ‘RunSafer’ came to mind. I met with a lawyer who said, ‘you can’t say RunSafe, because you can’t guarantee that. But if you add an R to the end…”
RunSafer came into being in January 2013, and soon Todd began to teach workshops using the contacts he had built up throughout his career as one of America’s most popular running champions. Over the last 14 months he has done more than 50 clinics throughout the USA as he continued to build brand awareness. He got a big boost this past November when Asics jumped on board as a sponsor.
“Now we want to see how viral RunSafer can become.”
The way the program works is Todd and assistant Lindsey Collins demonstrate fundamental self-defense techniques in an interactive 60-minute session. He doesn’t over teach. Instead, using the skills he has honed through a secondary career in sports broadcasting, Todd attempts to impart realistic martial arts techniques for front, rear, and ground-based attack situations.
“I have two teen-age daughters,” Todd told the group at the Movin’ Shoes. “I see them in your eyes. People ask how prevalent attacks are, and I get alerts on my cell phone whenever an attack takes place in America. Every day I get something. I want you to walk out of here saying, “I can do this if something ever comes down. The idea is to create time and distance. Don’t even think of this as a defensive situation. The psychology is, ‘I win this today’. Be offensive minded.”
Besides a hands-on demonstration, Todd also handed out a RunSafer Safety Tips card listing five techniques to employ if an attack occurs, and 14 awareness factors to keep in mind at all times.
The women in attendance were attentive, appreciative, and seemed ready to incorporate Todd’s RunSafer message into their daily routines.
In this hectic, hectored world in which freedom has become an ever more precious commodity — and running one of its greatest expressions — we are reminded that freedom does not in itself confer safety. In fact, sometimes it can reduce it. And while men rarely consider the circumstances of their runs, heading out where ever they are, free of anxiety and fear, whether merited or not, women are not afforded such a careless deception.
Today, the sense of community that once defined the nation has given way to the hyphenated America of separation, anxiety, and mistrust. Into this hardened world Todd Williams has come with his RunSafer message of personal empowerment. So welcome it we do, for it is no use wishing for a once upon a time as Toby Keith recalls in Before We Knew They Were Good. Not only because time can never be recaptured, but because that time probably never really did exist outside our amber-held affection for it in the first place. So it is head up, eyes forward, and be prepared to protect yourself at all times. Welcome to the 21st century.