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ATLANTA — It’s the call no parent wants to get.
“Mrs. Savelli, your daughter is conscious, but she was just hit by a car that was going 48 mph.” Carmen Savelli will always remember last Jan. 13, the day a minivan hit her while she was on a training run with the Piedmont College women’s cross-country team in Demorest, Ga.
As an experienced runner, Savelli was being vigilant, wearing brightly colored clothing and listening to music with only one earbud so she could hear what was going on around her. It was about 5 p.m., almost dark, when the minivan swerved a little and knocked her down. She was lucky, suffering only a large bruise from her calf to her hip, glass embedded in her chest, a dislocated finger and ligament damage to her wrist.
“My mom freaked out and drove straight here from Atlanta,” she said. “I’m very careful of where I run — I tend to stay off busy roads and run mainly in neighborhoods.”
Savelli’s tale isn’t an isolated incident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 69,000 pedestrians are injured each year by vehicles, with 4,500 of them dying. It’s estimated that about 1,000 of them are runners and joggers.
A close call with vehicles on the roads isn’t the only problem facing runners and joggers as they pound the pavement.
Atlanta resident and outside sales rep Elizabeth Kalifeh said she was assaulted on a run last Thanksgiving.
“Footsteps came up behind me, and I was groped and attacked,” said Kalifeh, who has a goal to run a race in each of the 50 states. “I ran with my phone, getting away from him, and called 911.” Kalifeh’s case has yet to go to trial, but it has not dissuaded her from running.
She and other runners have advice: Be proactive and take steps to protect yourself, whether you run alone or in a group.
Kalifeh, who continues to run alone, said, “Give someone else your running route, and use your Wrist Saver pepper spray.”
Personal Saver makes Wrist Saver Black Pepper Spray, a ½-ounce pack of pepper spray that attaches to a runner’s wrist and also contains an LED light and a slot to carry identification.
“Women runners can sometimes be caught off guard and put into a bad situation,” said Derek Downing, co-founder of Personal Saver. “You can put a Wrist Saver on your wrist, purse, key chain, car visor and belt.”
East Cobb, Ga., runner Shawna Block is training for her first Atlanta-Journal Constitution Peachtree Road Race, and that means early morning runs before work or night runs after a long day at the office.
Block makes sure she is decked out in her reflective suspenders, and she makes it a point to have a coal miner’s-style bright lamp either in her hand or pinned to her clothes at all times to be visible.
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It’s a look that might earn Block some double takes from passing vehicles, but that’s all part of her plan.
“I’m not about fashion,” Block said. “I’m about being seen, and runners need to care about that.” As technology has advanced, manufacturers are getting better and making more effective brightly colored, reflective or even lighted clothing, such as the HALO Belt, an illuminating LED safety belt that can be worn around the waist or as a sash.
“It’s a very good idea. I also like that it flashes, and that might be that extra little feature that gets you noticed,” Block said.
As an experienced competitive runner and one of the ambassadors for the popular Black Girls RUN organization in Atlanta, Darlene Baltimore said she tries to set an example for the other members that look up to her.
“Run with a buddy if at all possible,” Baltimore counseled. “But most of all, be mindful and pay attention to what the drivers of cars are doing — think ahead.”
Running mom Sharon Murphy of Alpharetta likes to wave and acknowledge every person she sees on her running route, but she isn’t just showing Southern hospitality.
"I try to get their attention for a moment. My thinking is that if anything were to happen to me while I was out, then maybe those people would be more likely to remember me, and when and where they saw me." It is up to runners to run defensively when pounding out the miles on metro Atlanta roads.
Valerie Pichardo, another avid runner and Atlanta Track Club member, sums up the ever-present dangers when asked if she had any brushes with cars while training: "Who hasn't had a close call with a car in Atlanta?"
Running safety tips from members of the Atlanta Track Club:
■ Wear reflective and lighted gear at all times, even in the daylight hours.
■ Always run against traffic.
■ If you listen to music or talk radio, listen with only one earbud.
■ Wear an ID bracelet with emergency contact information.
■ Run with your phone and consider having a one-click emergency app at the ready or an app like Find My iPhone where someone knows, and can track your route.
■ Keep pepper spray on your belt or wrist to ward off attackers, aggressive dogs and even coyotes, which are becoming more prevalent in the metro area.
■ If you get a feeling that a particular area is too dangerous for your run, plan another route.