With 5kms remaining in Brooklyn Lindsey’s virtual New York City Marathon, she found herself thinking for the first time that day about the terrifying events that had led her to this point: Just two months earlier, in that same spot, a man had tried to abduct her during an early morning run.
An author and cofounder of Somos Church, Lindsey, 42, had planned to compete in the 2020 New York City Marathon. But like most major competitions, the COVID-19 outbreak forced the race to go virtual last year.
Determined to complete the distance from her home in central Florida, the wife and mother of two kept training for the race. On Friday, August 21, Lindsey planned to run 26 kms on the 5km path around nearby Lake Hollingsworth. She would start at 4 a.m., and after completing about 10km solo, she anticipated her husband and his friend would catch up with her on the trail.
“I told my husband, ‘I’m going to loop the lake to stay safe because there is more light there,’ not thinking about anyone who might be watching my pattern,” Lindsey said.
After completing the first loop, Lindsey realized she was being followed. She saw a man in his car driving next to her on the road that runs parallel to the lake path.
“With the window rolled down, [he was] saying things to me that I honestly have blocked out, but the most decipherable thing was ‘come on, get in the car,’” Lindsey said. “It was a moment when everything in your body tells you you’re in danger.”
Hoping he would leave her alone, Lindsey continued to run and avoid eye contact with him. Eventually, he drove ahead but pulled over on the side of the trail, where he waited for her. Lindsey turned around and ran toward her neighborhood.
“That’s when I saw his headlights,” Lindsey said. “He had circled the lake very fast and his headlights were coming toward me, trying to cut me off the trail.”
Lindsey ran in the opposite direction of his car, toward the houses that lined the lake. Searching for neighbors who could help her, she looked for houses with security cameras at the front door. But he continued to follow her.
She reached a house, rang the doorbell, and yelled to whoever lived inside, “I’m not trying to break in, I just need help.” But no one answered. Meanwhile, the man parked outside of the house and continued to verbally harass her. He turned the car around so his trunk would face her.
“IT WAS A MOMENT WHEN EVERYTHING IN YOUR BODY TELLS YOU YOU’RE IN DANGER.”
“[I thought], I don’t have any form of defense, no one is coming for me,” Lindsey said. “As he was backing up, I took a chance to run again.” She sprinted next door to a temple, where she took off her bright pink shirt to blend in and crawled to a low point in the yard. While hiding on the ground, she saw his headlights disappear. At that point, she headed towards her house.
“When I turned to get to my street, I thought I saw his car again….I didn’t know if it was him, but I felt like I was going to break down if I didn’t get help,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe at this point.”
She attempted to get another neighbour to come outside, but still no one responded. Finally, Lindsey saw one of her runner friends drive by in his car. She ran toward him and used his vehicle as a shield to get to her house, which was about 100 yards away. At the same time, the car that she thought was her stalker’s turned and left the area. When Lindsey made it to her driveway, her friend pulled over.
“I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I was just so incredibly scared because I felt like I was in so much danger….He meant harm,” she said. When Lindsey was able to catch her breath, she told her friend what happened and they called the police. A police report was filed, and the investigation is still ongoing.
“The fact is, he could still be around,” Lindsey said.
The ordeal on her morning run caused Lindsey to suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms, which made her doubt whether she could finish the virtual marathon. For days, she’d go for a run and around 3kms in, she would suffer from a panic attack. “It was hard to breathe, to talk your body and mind back to a place of safety,” Lindsey said.
To keep running with peace of mind, she asked her family and friends to join her, and they rallied in support. They accompanied Lindsey for training sessions by running or biking next to her and eventually helped her feel confident running in the dark again.
In the weeks that followed the incident, Lindsey also sought out resources dedicated to improving runner safety, implemented safety protocols in her training routine, and took a self-defense class.
“I wanted to focus on the things we could do,” Lindsey said. “I don’t want to live in fear and I don’t want my daughters to live in fear.”
In an effort to raise awareness, Lindsey posted a video describing the encounter on her Facebook page. A friend in Colorado suggested she check out Despite the Dark.
In 2018, Ali Barzyk, Jordyn Kerr, and Gabriella Owen formed Despite the Dark as an internship project sustained through self-funding. Through education and community building initiatives, the campaign aims to empower women to engage in outdoor activities and create safer environments at night.
Lindsey reached out to the organization and they connected her with Owen, Despite the Dark’s chief marketing officer, who also lives in Lakeland. They met for coffee and Lindsey offered to raise money for the organization during her virtual New York City Marathon.
“I knew that this unfortunate and uncomfortable situation could be leveraged for something good,” Lindsey said.
Her offer came at the right time for the organization. Now in its second year, the leaders wanted to apply for federal nonprofit status to expand their reach. But to go through the process of becoming a federal nonprofit, Despite the Dark needed to pay expenses that totaled $1,500.
“When Brooklyn reached out to us, we had just had a meeting two days earlier as an executive team talking about divvying up these expenses to file for 501c3 status and trademarking and all this stuff,” Kerr, Despite the Dark’s chief secretary and senior copywriter, told Runner’s World. “Having her fundraise was literally a godsend and perfect timing for everything.”
“I DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN FEAR AND I DON’T WANT MY DAUGHTERS TO LIVE IN FEAR.”
On October 2, Lindsey posted on her Facebook and Instagram, requesting that friends donate to Despite the Dark while she completed nine loops on the Lake Hollingsworth path for the marathon on November 3. Owen even joined her for the last few laps. In total, the initiative raised $1,600.
“[Lindsey] had been empowered by all the people that she’d been in contact with since the event happened, and I think that just shows the power of community and how a tragic incident doesn’t have to defeat you,” Owen told Runner’s World. “If you have the right people, the right resources, you can be at peace even after something like that has happened.”
Inspired by a passage in Deena Kastor’s memoir Let Your Mind Run, Lindsey said she focused on gratitude during the marathon. She thought about her supporters who accompanied her on countless runs prior, some with her for every loop on the marathon course. She thought about each friend who donated to Despite the Dark. And she thought about the confidence she gained after educating herself and others on runner safety.
The effort resulted in a new personal best of 4:11.
“I feel like every km I’ve ever ran in my life poured into this,” Lindsey said. “Gratitude carried me so far, and I’m just so thankful for every person who was like, I believe in you and your healing.”