You may remember an interview we did with Rob Krar entitled ‘More than Running‘, which detailed Rob’s ongoing battle/journey with depression. Personally, it was one of the most thought-provoking, interesting and enjoyable interviews I’d ever done, delving deep into the life of someone who had been so impacted by depression and for him to be so frank about it.
When I received a note from Sophia Walker, it raised another social issue that is all too common here in Australia. Domestic abuse and violence.
As such, I’ve decided to give it the same title as the Rob Krar piece because I’d like to start a series of these articles that tackles social issues. For me, these articles aren’t really about running – running is the output of what is in part a coping, discovery and support mechanism. It’s also a place where people find solitude, rationale and light at the end of what can at times be, a very dark tunnel.
Sophia was in that place, although it wasn’t apparent at first – it took some time before she actually recognised it – and part of wanting to write this article is so that others might be helped in some way, no matter how small.
Domestic abuse and violence is a big issue globally as well as in Australia. Here, domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury in women under 45, with more than one woman murdered by her current or former partner every week. And there is a distinction to make between the two. Domestic abuse can be non-violent in the form of intimidation and marginalising the female (or male) partner, belittling then and taking away their financial freedom for example. Domestic violence of course, takes it further in terms of the actual physical abuse of the partner.
It is the former that afflicted Sophia when she previously lived in the US. Now a New Zealand resident, and keen runner both during the abuse and after, she’s managed four traverses of The Hillary track just outside of Auckland this year alone, including a ‘double Hillary’ (150-odd kms and near enough 9,500m of elevation) which she undertook to help raise awareness of domestic abuse.
Emotional abuse leaves no visible cuts or bruises, as such it can be much harder for victims to recognise it and seek help. Sophia said to me, “The decision to stand up for myself and leave an abusive relationship was one of the scariest and best decisions of my life. Through the solace of nature, the support of friends and family, and camaraderie of the trail running community, I am healing from the invisible wounds left by domestic emotional abuse.”
Sophia went on to explain that for her, it took some time before she actually realised what constituted the abuse she was suffering from, ‘It wasn’t until I was talking with a friend about my experiences in my previous marriage that it helped me to understand domestic abuse and what it was. Domestic violence is a horrific thing to have experienced, and in both New Zealand and Australia we need to do more to help protect the hundreds if not thousands of women suffering daily.
“Domestic abuse, although not often violent can be an extremely frightening experience and I want to help women recognise the signs. It might be an over-bearing partner who in public appears perfectly normal, yet in private can be verbally abusive and highly intimidating so that the threat of violence appears close. It can also be a highly marginalising experience, whereby a partner starts to control your life and limits your freedom with both friends and financially. The most important thing to do is to start talking to people who care and those around you – start to understand some of the signs of what might constitutes domestic abuse, even if you think it might appear trivial, which it’s certainly not the case.”
It was a conversation with a friend that led Sophia to take action, a step that’s an extremely hard one to take. According to US research a woman has already left her abuser (most likely a partner of husband) at least seven times before she has physically ‘left them’. Something Sophia recognises, “It was an incredibly hard step to leave a person that had been so controlling of my life. I’m lucky in some respects that I already had family living in New Zealand and it was a place I’d always wanted to live in. So pretty much a year to the day this past weekend, I packed and left for New Zealand’s shores and things have never been better.
“Running has been a lifesaver in some respects. I’d always been runner, but since coming to New Zealand’s shores just over a year ago, running has become a big part of who I am, while helping me to come to terms of the abusive relationship I suffered in. Spending time with both friends and yourself on the trail is so therapeutic, nature’s way of healing yourself if you will.”
I’d like to thank Sophia for her time and for opening up about her experience. The aim of writing this article is not so much to document the ‘running’ if you will, but more so that if it helps anyone out there recognise some of the signs of domestic abuse, it’s achieved its goal. If you’d like more support or information, contact the excellent people at the following organisations:
- White Ribbon (Australia)
- Salvation Army (Australia)
- Vinnies (Australia)
- Save the Children (Australia)
- Women’s Refuge (NZ)
Finally, if you have an experience that provides some deeper meaning to why you run, I’d love to hear from you as part of our ‘More than Running’ series – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org