It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Not a normal hour for a group of Mason students to be up. Not only are they awake and functioning when most students are fast asleep, they are about to run a six-mile race around Arlington.
Are they crazy? No, not really. Dedicated? Most definitely. But these Mason students aren’t running six miles in the rain and cold for themselves or for their teammates, they are running for one victim of dating abuse who will get the chance to start fresh and receive a one-year scholarship to Mason.
This scholarship is the result of the “No Fear in Love” race, a race dedicated to championing one’s inner power. This was the race’s third year beginning at 6:45 a.m., an un-Godly hour to some, but to Karen Bontrager, the organizer of the race and “No Fear in Love” campaign, this early hour symbolizes something much more meaningful.
“This is about running together away from the darkness and into the light,” said Bontrager, who wants the darkness at the beginning of the race to symbolize a dark past or cloud in life. Runners will overcome this darkness together, so every runner will, literally and figuratively, push on toward a brighter beginning.
Bontrager wants the focus on unhealthy relationships to end. To Bontrager, a focus on healthy relationships, rather than unhealthy ones, is what is going to prevent dating violence from occuring. Too often, relationship forums and conver- sations occur after violence or abuse has already happened. Bontrager wants this to change.
“The perspective about what healthy is needs to change. Boys and girls, from early on, see unhealthy relationships occur, but they don’t realize that behavior is not OK. They see the unhealthy as normal so, we need to start having conversa- tions with 16-24 year-olds about what a healthy relationship is,” Bontrager said.
The “No Fear in Love” name actually came from this idea of what a healthy relationship should be. The vision revolves around the idea that no one should ever feel fear in a healthy relationship. The “No Fear in Love” campaign states
“experiencing fear is an early indication that something might be awry or unhealthy in a relationship.”
But in order to come to terms with an unhealthy relation- ship, Bontrager and many of the participants of the “No Fear in Love” race believe that you must be secure in yourself. With confidence and knowledge that you deserve to be cherished and loved in a relationship, Bontrager believes anyone can notice, prevent and even end a negative relationship.
“You should be championed in your relationship,” Bontrager said. “If I give you a dollar and tell you that’s what you’re worth, and you believe me, that means I have control in the relation- ship, not you. You need to know your self-worth, and you need to know that no one but you can create that worth. Everyone deserves to be championed in a relationship, and it will happen if you believe in yourself.”
Mason’s Running Club made the 20-minute trip to the race because of this cause. “No Fear in Love” is different because it looks for the positive, and that is why the running club found so much appeal in the race.
“I was looking for races to go to around the area,” said Running Club President April Aralar, who is a Mason freshman studying bioengineering. “I saw that this one had an amazing cause that benefits a Mason student. I thought it was great for our first meet together.”
The Mason Running Club had the most people who are aged 16-24 at the race, so Bontrager wanted to recognize them. Bontrager donated $100 to the Mason Running Club as a “thank-you” for showing their support for the cause and running for one fellow Mason student who is a victim of an unhealthy relationship.
But “No Fear in Love” was more than a race or campaign, it was a discussion with people ranging in ages from 13 to their 50s, which offered a diverse group of opinions about what a healthy relationship should look like. Each person in the room had different relationship experiences, and they shared each experience to broaden someone else’s understanding of what healthy relationships should be.
“I don’t think we know self-love,” concurred one group who believed loving and respecting yourself comes first in a relationship.
One group believed that to make this campaign more effec- tive and to actually make a societal change, we need to look toward the power and influence of social media.
“Social media is a great way to reach out to the age group of people we are trying to target,” said a group member. The group also noticed that TV is sending too many negative messages, there aren’t enough public figures to promote healthy rela- tionships and music is especially negative when it comes to relationships.
“Music really sticks with people. It’s something that we listen to when we’re young and it’s ingrained in our memory. If some- one’s rapping or singing about negative feelings toward their loved one or about abusing them, that subconsciously makes an impact on someone’s view of a relationship,” a 15-year-old group member said.
Even though “No Fear in Love” is geared toward 16 to 24-year-olds, one mother was glad to have the opportunity to bring her 13-year-old to the race and discussion.
“We’re here for our daughter who’s volunteering,” said Cathi Cox, who is coincidentally a Mason alumna. “This is such a great organization that helped us open the discussion about healthy relationships.”
Regardless of age, discussion about healthy relationships is important. Mason WAVES opens up discussion for healthy relationships during February as a part of National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month. This year, LLC Coordinator Kevin Stoy participated in the race, and he hopes that Mason and “No Fear in Love” will collaborate to get more students out to the race for years to come.