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Hundreds attend self-defense class after Golden Gardens attack

Hundreds of people attended a class to learn the techniques that Kelly Herron used to survive her terrifying struggle with a rapist in a bathroom at Golden Gardens Park.

Related: Seattle steps up its response to homeless camp after attack

Her message: “You mess with the wrong girl and you are not going to get me today and if you think one of us is leaving this bathroom and it’s going to be you — you are wrong! Not today, [expletive] … Not today!”

That’s what Herron told him. What did she do to him?

“I clawed his face and kind of gouged and scratched at his eyes. And used the side of my hand — if you feel along your wrist bone it’s very sharp. So, I used that to punch or strike him in the temple and in the face. I was actually pretty pleased when I saw the cops bring him out and he looked pretty banged up as well,” Herron said.

Incredibly, she learned how to defend herself just weeks before she was attacked inside one of the public restrooms at Golden Gardens. Herron was taking a break from her marathon training, washing her hands, when her attacker appeared.

“In class, we learned that if you think something is the right thing to do when you are fighting back just do it. And having that confidence can shave milliseconds that can allow you to survive,” Herron said.

Few of us actually know what it’s like to fight for our lives. And that’s perhaps why hundreds of women flooded a trendy Belltown venue to learn how.

Most share with me a common refrain for being there: “I’ve always wanted to take a self-defense class… but…”

They aren’t alone. Herron took a self-defense class because her work, a company called RealSelf, offered it as a free benefit. So, why not?

Human Resources manager Craig Meadows-Stein says only about 30 of their more than 100 employees showed up. That was enough to save a life.

“You can do financial wellness, you can do fitness, you can do nutrition and those are the things that are pretty common. And then I realized that we have a lot of employees coming in early in the morning and late at night and in the winter, especially, it’s quite dark,” Meadows-Stein said. “As an HR person, I think we have a choice to just support the day-to-day and just support the business or we can really add value and programs to people’s lives that give them confidence.”

Whatever you call that — luck? foresight? — Herron survived, in part, because of it. And it was Jordan Giarratano, owner, and head martial arts and self-defense instructor for Fighting Chance Seattle, who taught her.

“I really hope to change the narrative from fear-based self-defense or sensationalized self-defense to helping people feel embodied and empowered and able to trust their intuition. And then building on our message on community defense and empowerment — helping other people to feel safe,” Giarratano said.

He wants “herd immunity” for violence against women. It’s similar to how doctors talk about vaccinations, that if enough of the population gets vaccinated we can protect those who can’t. Giarratano thinks that if enough of us speak out and push back against this type of violence maybe we might start hearing fewer stories like Herron’s.

“It’s traumatizing. PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] is a real thing and I am hopeful that with the support that I have received that I will eventually get back to the person that I was. I am not there yet, but I am certainly willing to put the work in,” Herron said.

The work will come in many forms. As for that marathon training her attacker at Golden Gardens interrupted, she’s still training to finish.

Herron’s alleged attacker, 40-year-old Gary Steiner, is a convicted Level III sex offender who, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s office, failed to register there. He’s been charged with assault and attempted rape, but a judge ordered that he undergo a mental competency evaluation before a trial can begin.

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