Sat. Jan 25th, 2020

Runners unite to reclaim river valley trails following groping incidents

2 min read

Joggers take part in a ‘Take Back Our Trails’ run through Edmonton’s river valley, following a series of groping incidents over the summer, Friday Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by David Bloom

Edmonton’s running community rallied together on Friday at the Take Back Our Trails run, which aimed to show of “strength and solidarity” for women runners following a series of 14 reported groping incidents by a man in the river valley over the last two months.

More than 100 runners of all ages, genders and abilities took part in two 6.6-kilometre runs starting from Kinsmen Park on Friday evening, only 48 hours after Sonya Jongsma Knauss and Joelle Chille Cale came up with the idea.

“People were making new friends, chatting about different opportunities,” said Chille Cale of the first run in Kinsmen Park on Friday. “It’s just a really great way for all of these groups and all these people to come together and unite and to say, ‘This is our river valley (and) these are our trails.’ ”

Police are searching for a person of interest in the investigation into a series of acts which involve a man exposing himself to and grabbing women in the river valley near the Kinsmen sports centre and surrounding areas, the most recent of which occurred on Tuesday.

For Jessica Laird, who runs the trails in the area regularly on her lunch hour, attending was an important way of showing that women and runners aren’t afraid, especially as her 10-year-old daughter becomes a runner herself.

“For me, I want my kids to feel safe on the trails,” said Laird, who decided to enroll herself and her daughter in self-defense classes within the last year. “So taking back the trails means that I come out here and I feel very safe by myself running.”

Laird said she doesn’t run with headphones so she is always aware of her surroundings, particularly after she experienced a similar indecent incident last year.

“Tonight is really about creating awareness,” she said, “and taking a stand to say we’re not OK with this happening.”

Organizers hope that the event will help connect runners of all abilities and create a sense of safety and community along the trails in the river valley. Many people run alone, said Chille Cale, because they can’t find a partner who matches their pace or distance limits.

Community, she said, is key to ensuring runners feel safe in the river valley.

“(The run) celebrates the community that we have and the fact that we want everyone to feel safe and welcome and open and like the trails are for them,” said Chille Cale. “Because they are, the trails are for everybody.”

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