A slightly overcast day didn't keep dozens of people from gathering Saturday on the Rivergreenway during the Strength Against Violence event.
Melissa Renner, the organizer, began speaking shortly after 11 a.m. After thanking attendees for taking the time, she solemnly reminded everyone why they came: to stand together in the aftermath of a female jogger's attack on Sept. 22 at that same section of the Rivergreenway.
Renner talked about why people should use the trail system or exercise outdoors -- the fresh air, the scenery, the benefits of improved fitness, saying, "My soul is nourished by that."
She said the sexual assault came after the runner did what she was supposed to do: Make eye contact, acknowledged the presence of another person, and yet, the assault still took place, in broad daylight -- likely for no other reason than because the victim was female and working out alone.
"That is why a crime of this nature is especially offensive," Renner said.
Mitch Harper, R-4th, attended the event, chatting with other attendees. Harper, who has long been an advocate for fitness and running, said that he has used the segment of the Rivergreenway where the attack took place many times and that he was pleased that others came out on Saturday.
"These people are demonstrating peacefully, but with purpose," Harper said. "They're taking ownership of the trails, this issue. They're showing that they are going to push back against anyone who wants to make this an unsafe activity."
"It's a push-back."
After explaining to the gathering that they would stand shoulder-to-shoulder for 20 minutes, then have the opportunity to break into smaller groups to discuss runner safety and learn some self-defense pointers, Renner made sure to remind the group that an act of violence should not dissuade anyone from using the trail system. In fact the gathering was meant to explain that together, those committed to outdoor activity should feel empowered by their commitment.
"We don't want to lose our sense of fun," Renner said.