AUSTIN - Recent attacks on Austin's hike-and-bike trails haven't kept Austinites from putting fitness ahead of fear.
Before 6 a.m. on a random Monday, our cameras found hundreds of runners, walkers and cyclists all out before dawn near Vic Mathias Shores on Lady Bird Lake.
They work out despite a string of recent assaults on women.
"We want to catch every single one of them," said Austin Police Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon about the perpetrators. "And if we can, we want to prevent them before they even happen."
Chacon addressed the issue in late September, following the arrest of Richard McEachern.
He's accused of forcing a runner to the ground in an attempted sexual assault, thwarted by a good Samaritan with a gun.
"She was actively fighting this person and screaming out for help," Chacon added.
It marks three attacks in the area since late August, increasing the presence of officers on bicycles and in cruisers in the dark.
But that wasn't enough for Senior Police Officer Rafael Rosales. For him, this fight is personal.
"What really made me sad was I had a lot of loved ones who didn't want to run anymore," Rosales said.
The SWAT officer started the "Run with a Cop" program in early October.
Rosales has run the trails himself since he moved here in 2000, and can't bear to think fear is keeping others from what they love.
"I've heard a lot of people who are back on the trails now have that sense of security because we're out here," he added.
Because of the SWAT team's often unpredictable schedule, other APD units also participate and advertise the runs on Facebook.
But what happens if you are attacked while running by yourself without a whistle or a flashlight?
Theadora Clifton knows what to do.
The former Victim's Advocate started Goddess Armor Protection, teaching self-defense to children, adults and senior citizens.
"Instead of listening to and trying to take care of their needs after the fact," she said, "I wanted to be on the other side of prevention."
With the help of KVUE Photojournalist Wayne Cross Clifton, she showed runners what to do if they are attacked head on.
She recommends hitting the attacker's pressure points; on the ears, the eyes, the larynx, the chest and the nose.
"If you hit the nose far enough it will go up into the brain," she described.
Other advice she gave included carrying a whistle or pepper spray that you know how to use, keeping the attack off the ground if possible, and not turning your back on your attacker until you've put some distance between you.
KVUE's Tina Shively played the role of the victim in an attack from behind.
She learned how to get free, turn to face the attacker and run. It was difficult for her to remember the moves just minutes after learning them.
Clifton says she hears similar stories quite often, adding "Ladies are very apprehensive because sometimes they want to include their motherly instinct of 'I always want to take care of someone.'"
Clifton's years of military training in the Army taught her how to stay safe and now she passes that wisdom on to others.
"I want women to know that when they're a victim, or if they become a victim in any situation, to step outside the box," Clifton added. "Rejoice in themselves to be blessed and be enlightened to go through and tell your story to the next woman so she can be encouraged to move forward with her life."
Officer Rosales encourages people to report anything on the trail they see as different or unusual, no matter how small. That's because it could help catch an unidentified attacker and prevent them from striking again.
You can find more information on Clifton's products and self-defense classes by clicking here.
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