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Four miles into her 10-mile long run, Seattle runner Kelly Herron made a seemingly harmless decision. It was a Sunday afternoon in March of 2017 when she stopped mid-run to use the bathroom in Golden Gardens Park.
As Herron dried her hands, Arizona registered sex offender Gary Steiner emerged from a stall, attacked her from behind and tackled her to the ground.
Thanks to skills she had recently learned at a self-defense workshop, Herron was equipped to fight back, all while screaming, “Not today, M**F**er!” Those four words have evolved into their own brand—NTMF—and Herron’s mutilated GPS line data is now a symbol of her strength.
Herron’s tale of survival has profoundly impacted the running community, serving as an encouragement to women worldwide to “never stop fighting and never stop running.” Her story has also resonated with men, one of whom is her current boyfriend, Jonathan Lieberman.
It all started when Runner’s World created a video capturing Herron’s training for her first marathon, the 2017 Chicago Marathon. After the video was rebooted in June of 2018, Lieberman (whose transformation from overweight smoker to Ironman athlete was also featured by Runner’s World) saw the video and messaged Herron. Their love story took off from there.
“I don’t often refer to myself as being lucky, but I really do feel lucky that we met, and that what I went through was able to lead me to something so special,” Herron says.
Over the past year, the two have seen each other at least once a month, mainly while traveling around the country to various races. In December of 2018, they both completed the Honolulu Marathon, which was Herron’s second time tackling 26.2 miles.
“We are very much alike in that we’re both very gritty and have a lot of intrinsic motivation. And he understands what I went through was a pretty unique situation. It comes from having a warrior mindset, and he has that same mindset. I think that’s what makes us click,” Herron says.
In the months leading up to the Honolulu Marathon, Herron’s mindset was tested when she was attacked—again. This time the assault occurred during the Girlfriends Run for a Cure Half Marathon in Vancouver, Wash. With just over one mile left in the race, a man ran toward Herron and grabbed her butt.
“It was really disheartening to be groped during that race because, when I initially started running again after the first assault, racing is where I always felt safest—it’s the place I don’t bring a self-defense weapon, it’s the place I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s really the place I feel like I can totally focus on my running—and to have that happen was really unexpected,” Herron says.
Initially, Herron was conflicted. Feeling strong and approaching the end of the race, she desperately wanted to keep running. However, she thought about the implications of not confronting her assailant and chose to chase him down instead, all while yelling, “Assault! Assault!”
“I thought, This is certainly not the first time this guy has crossed the line. If he gets away with an ass grab now, what’s going to happen to the women racing behind me? Is it going to happen again? Is it going to be worse next time? I think as women, sometimes we just let things go, and when we let it go that doesn’t help anybody,” says Herron, whose actions resulted in the arrest of her assailant.
Her quest to inspire women to take safety into their own hands has become her full-time passion. She is working with her previous self-defense instructor, Jordan Giarratano, to create corporate and city runner safety workshops. Their goal is to make self-defense classes easily accessible, especially in cities—such as Seattle, San Francisco and Portland—that have increased safety concerns.
“This is definitely the worst thing that’s ever happened to me being a sexual assault survivor, but it’s also the best thing, because it’s allowed me to truly help other women … and that has been very rewarding,” says Herron, who plans to write her first book in 2019.
Neither of these attacks have deterred Herron from running. Her 2019 race calendar is full. In April, Herron hopes to break two hours in the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon, which was the first half marathon she ever raced. Herron also plans to race the Atlantic City Marathon this October with Lieberman.
In between writing, speaking, running and teaching self-defense, Herron makes time to give back to new runners. She recently coached her first couch-to-5K group, and she has fallen in love with inspiring those new to the sport.
“I love meeting new runners, especially since I still feel like a new runner in many ways,” Herron says. “It’s really fun introducing them to this awesome world, making their lives better. I absolutely love it.”
For information on how to book Kelly Herron and Fighting Chance Seattle instructor Jordan Giarratano for onsite women’s empowerment and self-defense classes, visit http://www.nottodayselfdefense.training/.