My story with stalking and harassment began three years ago and has been going on ever since. In April 2018, I suddenly started receiving a barrage of Facebook messages. As someone with public accounts, I do my best to respond to messages from other runners who are dealing with injuries or mental health struggles or just looking for training advice. I occasionally get mean or creepy messages from bots, which I delete. But these messages were different. They made me feel uncomfortable.
At the time I was dealing with an injury. This man, let’s call him “C,” sent me long, 10-paragraph messages about injury recovery and drugs, offering to help me rehab, even proposing to send me these drugs. Normally I would have just hit delete, but he repeatedly said he was a USATF coach. I took screenshots and immediately showed the messages to my coaches and agent at the time. They confirmed that it was indeed weird, but that he was probably just a fan and not someone associated with USATF. I put it out of my mind for the next few weeks.
Then I started getting lots of phone calls from an unknown number. I assumed it was spam until I checked two voicemails and realized it was C. They addressed me as if I was in a romantic relationship with C. I blocked the number. I brought it to the attention of someone close to me, who didn’t think it was a big deal. I felt embarrassed and tried to move on and focus on my injury.
A few weeks later I received an email from C with the subject line “Wedding Preparations.” The email detailed “our wedding” that would take place in a week. He told me to be on the lookout for a package on Tuesday and another one later in the week. I was out of town seeing a therapist for an injury at the time. On Thursday, I got a call from FedEx informing me that they had attempted to deliver a package twice and had another package from the same sender that both required my signature. I asked who sent the packages. It was C. I crumbled. I was terrified. How did this man have my phone number? How did he know where I lived? And he was planning to come to Cincinnati in a few days for “our wedding”?
I didn’t want to go home. My now-fiancé, Max, flew to Cincinnati to meet me. He installed security cameras and an alarm. We then drove together to stay with my younger sister in Seattle. We called the police. The police drove by my condo to check on any suspicious movement and told us to contact the court for a restraining order. We were able to connect with Nike security. They made me feel justified in feeling scared and assured me that I’d made the right call in staying with my sister. With all this information in hand, I went to the Cincinnati courthouse. After multiple trips and three appearances in front of a judge, I was able to get a court-ordered permanent stalking protective order. After going through this process, I’ve learned you need to keep all physical evidence in these cases. I was relieved and hoped this was all behind me.
At the same time, I was still on edge. I was dealing with a lingering injury, not sleeping well, and not feeling like myself. I blamed it mostly on the injury. I didn’t let myself acknowledge the emotional stress from the unwanted attention. I felt embarrassed that I was making such a big deal out of a situation that lasted months but ended without any physical harm to me. I bought pepper spray and a taser. I bought a bar to put underneath my front door at night after I locked it. We had installed a security camera outside our front door, along with an alarm system and motion detectors. I didn’t run alone and made sure I was rarely alone. I was in a bad headspace and dealing with a foot and hip problem that wouldn’t go away. To rehab, I took about two months off from running. At the same time, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing this story, out of fear that it would seem like I was seeking attention. Outside of Max and my family, I didn’t share how low I was feeling with anyone else. And even in front of them, I tried to act as though I was fine. Compartmentalizing how I felt was my attempt to move on.
In February 2020, I was in Boston to run a 5K. I hadn’t raced on the track since my hip surgery in 2019, and I was anxious and nervous but mostly giddy. I felt fit and ready. I hadn’t heard from C in over a year; my guard was down. But then I woke up that morning to an onslaught of nasty messages on all social media platforms. He had messaged me, responded to my tweets, commented on my posts, and tagged me in his own posts.
This race was important to me. I wanted to prove to myself, and needed to prove to my sponsor, that I could still be competitive after hip surgery. I tried to put the messages out of my mind so I could focus. Initially, I started deleting them but then remembered that I needed records. I informed my coaches and former agent, I took screenshots to later send to the police, and proceeded to block all of his accounts. Despite the added stress from this unwanted attention, I was able to focus on the race. With the help of my teammates I ran a PR of 14:51, giving me the Olympic standard in the 5K.
Over the next several weeks, I received countless messages from different accounts C had created. I was scared. C knew where I lived. I was thankful Max lived with me, but every day I still lived with the uncertainty of if and when C would show up. There was constant stress and anxiety. I didn’t feel comfortable being alone. I started to see a therapist. I reached out to Nike security, who connected me to a threat management firm, Gavin de Becker and Associates. They assured me they would look into this man and keep me in the loop with anything they found. The pandemic had just worsened in the U.S., and Cincinnati locked down at the end of March. While this created additional stress, I used it as a way to try to ease my mind around my stalker. I figured it would be difficult for C to travel to Cincinnati, as he was living in New Jersey at the time.
At the end of May, the threat management team called to inform us that C had moved to Cincinnati. They told me to stay vigilant and cautious but didn’t feel this was an imminent threat. About a week later, they discovered a post by C, where he stated that he was coming to Cincinnati to kill me. When I heard this, I started bawling. I was terrified and felt at a loss of what to do. I was told to leave for the foreseeable future to stay safe while the police arrested him. I was paralyzed with fear. Max had to pack my suitcase and contact both of our parents to figure out a game plan. We weren’t able to fly out immediately, so we opted to stay at a hotel. We moved to a different hotel every night for three nights until we finally flew out early Monday morning.
We left without knowing how long we would be gone. I was barely sleeping. I had a stress fracture in my hip, and I was a total mess. From the numerous injuries I’ve had throughout my career, I’ve learned to adapt my training. But in this instance, I was trying to compartmentalize my stress instead of acknowledging the additional pressure this situation created. A global pandemic, the postponement of the Olympics, and the uncertainty from this situation all played a role in my body breaking down.
After six weeks away, I had to return to Cincinnati to fulfill some contractual obligations and felt like a shadow of myself. The police were unable to arrest him. For the sake of our safety, Max and I stayed in an Airbnb instead of our home. By the end of the week, we found out C had fled a few days before. He left to pursue another victim.
C has reached out to me a dozen times since he fled in the summer of 2020. When I heard from him in March of this year, it had been 10 weeks since the last contact. I was triggered. Max was out of town, and I couldn’t handle it. I called my mom and cried on the phone for an hour. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was worried that C would come back to Cincinnati and that this time he would follow through on his threat to kill me. Living with this anxiety and fear is exhausting.
I know I’m not alone. Countless victims suffer from harassment, threats, and abuse. There isn’t always an end in sight. Unfortunately, in most of these situations it’s really hard to apprehend the abuser. It’s likely the abuser does not get arrested unless the victim is physically harmed. Even then, that is not always the case. My stalking protective order seemed useless. He has violated it countless times, and there seems to be no repercussions.
I don’t know if jail is the best place for every abuser. To my knowledge, C has a severe mental illness with delusions and an inability to process right and wrong. I struggle to balance my feelings that someone like C should not simply be thrown in jail but also shouldn’t be ignored by authorities and left to continue harassing and threatening innocent people. I wish we had more funding toward mental health resources. I believe so strongly in caring for everyone’s mental health. To care for myself, I have been working with two psychologists and a psychiatrist over the past few years to help manage the stress. I’ve recently started taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, again, to help feel more like myself.
As of now, C is in custody with the FBI. I’m not sure what will happen from here. I feel super lucky at this point to have so many people on my side. With that being said, I feel so much better but, I don’t know if I’ll ever have total peace of mind. I know I am stronger than this man. I am continuing to work on myself. I constantly remind myself that I am tough, a force to be reckoned with. I hate that I’ve had to alter my lifestyle, but I also feel empowered in that I’ve been able to continue to do my job well and focus on achieving my goals. I encourage anyone dealing with harassment to surround yourself with support and lean on those around you, and just know you are not alone. I want to try to put this behind me. I have so much more I want to do in my life and career. I won’t let this define me. No one can steal my light.
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