Greenwich Road Runners and members of the community gathered in outside Raphael’s Bakery early Friday morning to honor Eliza Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher, wife and mother of two young children who was kidnapped and killed during a pre-dawn run in Memphis last month.
About 75 people, mostly women, turned out for the event to stand in solidarity with Fletcher whose death was a reminder of the dangers women face while out running.
Donna Rosato talked about the nationwide event and mentioned that people had been critical of Fletcher for running by herself in the dark.
“She was a really accomplished runner. She had done a 3-hour-26-minute marathon and qualified for Boston. She was up so early because she was training,” Rosato said. “We should admire her commitment to running.”
Rosato shared that when she was in college she was running in a park, listening to music, when two teens on bikes came up behind her, lunged at her and grabbed her Sony Walkman.
“They were yelling something, but I couldn’t hear them,” she recalled. “I didn’t even notice them until they came beside me. I was so shaken. I couldn’t believe it happened in broad daylight. Now, I never wear head phones or listen to music because I just feel like I have to pay attention.”
Rosato introduced her friend Christine Podber, a member of Greenwich Road Runners, who gave out personal safety alarms.
Podber said no one should have to justify running early or in the dark, but there were ways to be safer.
“I thought what a great way to remind us that we should be safe no matter what, and to be aware of our surroundings at all times,” she said before explaining how the personal safety alarms work.
Greenwich Police Traffic Technician Roger Drenth, who does accident reconstruction including fatalities of pedestrians, shared safety tips.
He mentioned Fletcher had been out running at 4:00am.
“That is not a bad thing,” he said.
However, Drenth said that Fletcher had been running with traffic when she a man forced her into a car.
His first tip was for bicyclists to ride with traffic, and for walkers and runners to move against traffic.
“That way you can see what’s coming,” he said. “They’re not going to come up behind you.”
Drenth advised against running with two earbuds. He suggested running with just one earbud, or turning down the music low enough to be able to hear what’s coming up from behind.
Approximately 122,000 people are hit by a vehicle while running every year. Out of those approximately 5,300 die.
“It could happen here,” he said. “When you run, try to stay aware of your surroundings. I know you get into the zone, but if you have music, it’s even worse because you’ve totally blocked out the rest of the world and you’re in the zone.”
“Besides being abducted, you could twist an ankle, you could fall into a pot hole,” he warned.
“Always wear a vest to draw the driver’s eye to you,” he continued. “Even in the daytime, the sun goes in and out and you could get into a shady area under a tree. The cars do everything except watch what they’re doing and driving. They’re on their cell phones. They’re eating their breakfasts.”
“If possible run with a friend,” he added. “Just in case you get hurt or something. And if you are running with a friend, run single file if a car is coming.”
Drenth urged runners to stay on the sidewalk whenever there is one available. In fact, he said that Connecticut law requires people to stay out of the roadway when there is a sidewalk available.
Also, he suggested bringing a cell phone along while running. “If you fall and get hurt, or something happens, you have a way to call and tell us where you are.”
He said the whistles or alarms are good to carry.
“Always have that in case somebody comes or if you get hurt, you can make a noise to draw attention to yourselves, or to chase off an aggressive dog.”
Drenth said running predawn or at night wearing head lamps is ideal, but he noted cell phones also have a light built in.
Lastly, he recommended using a crosswalk rather than crossing in the middle of the street.
From there, the group divided into smaller groups of walkers and runners to symbolically complete the miles that Fletcher never did.
The event was one of thousands across the country to raise awareness of the dangers runners face, especially women, and to celebrate Eliza’s life.