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Women Race Presents United Front Against Domestic Violence

June 5, 2006 – They raced with their badges of courage imprinted on their hearts – close to 500 women and girls running in the 22nd annual Women Race, many of them carrying unseen scars obtained from years of abuse.
They ran in head ties, kerchiefs, visor caps, sunglasses and lipstick. Most wore the distinctive purple T-shirts of the St. Croix Women's Coalition, which sponsored its first race 19 years ago in only its third year of operation. With braids, locks, curls and pigtails bouncing, some women pushed their babies in strollers; others held the hands of younger runners, encouraging them with each step.
Many of their strides lacked a runner's grace, but they endured and bested the two-mile course, just as they tackled all the other obstacles in their lives.
The participants did not run for the glory of a medal; instead they ran for sisterhood, solidarity and to stamp out – symbolically, with each step – domestic violence in the Virgin Islands.
And they came to share their story of survival, to say thank you to the organization that was there for them in their darkest days.
"I run for the unity and the strength I get from the other women. Every time I walk I get stronger," said an eight-time race participant and rape survivor, who chose not to reveal her name.
"My daughter runs for me," said another survivor as she sat on a tree-shaded bench. She said although a physical condition prevents her from running, this is the seventh time her 12-year-old daughter has participated. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she owes a lot to the Women's Coalition.
"I really believe in them, in what they do," the 54-year-old St. Croix native said. She described how she was date-raped at 15, and how at 23, when she moved to the states, she was kidnapped and raped while being held hostage for several hours. Years later, when she married, her alcoholic husband abused her. She could never talk to her parents about the first act of violence, and the police never found the men who kidnapped and raped her.
"The Women's Coalition gave me the support I needed," she said. "They have a way of drawing you out and helping you to face the issues you have to deal with." She said her daughter also gets counseling from the coalition. "She feels a lot of anger and she has lost her faith in God, it worries me."
There were plenty of volunteers making sure everything ran smoothly. A woman calling herself "Harriet" said she would volunteer anytime the Women's Coalition needed her.
"I help because they have helped me," she said. Harriet said for years she was abused by her children's father and because of that she has been a client of the coalition for 17 years. She said it took her a long time to get out of the abusive relationship, and now she encourages other women in similar situations to seek help.
"I tell them don't take the blame. Stand strong and get help," she said.
At the race's end, runners gathered around the newly renovated Eliza McBean clock tower on the waterfront to receive their awards and accolades. 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-place medals were given in several categories, including age groups from eight all the way to the over-80 group.
The crowd cheered when Mabel Richardson, 81, stepped up to accept her first place medal. She said she walks and swims every morning to keep fit. Other categories receiving medals were "buns in the oven," runners with strollers, most participants from one school or business and the "caboose award", for the last runner to cross the finish line.
Erica Sweitzer won the race with an overall time of 12 minutes and 36 seconds. This was the first time she participated in the Women Race.
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