Shrewsbury Girls Strike Out To Learn Personal Safety Skills

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Westborough girls get a chance to take shots at trainer Terry Smith during a personal safety training course. Photo Credit: Jeff Nowak
SAM Training works with Westborough girls to teach them personal safety. Photo Credit: Jeff Nowak

WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — After planning a personal safety course in Westborough for area girls, parent Alisa Stone said she was worried she would have a hard time filling the seats.

That couldn't have been further from the case: An extra instructor had to be called in to help with the demand.

"I don't think I'm worried anymore," Stone said, looking at the full room. "It's just been phenomenal. There's been some smiles and chuckles, especially once we get into the activities."

Friday's third course was the largest of the day, and even larger numbers are expected for the three courses on Saturday. SAM Training co-founder Ellen Van Olden said 175 have signed up, and the goal was to turn no one away.

"The outpouring of community support has been amazing," she said.

Van Olden and fellow trainer Mike Kaselouskas spoke to the crowded room at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough about several topics, including minimizing risk, managing fear and avoiding "denial."

"Our goal is to empower you when you leave here and to prevent this from happening to you," Kaselouskas said to the crowd of mostly high school-age girls and multiple adults.

It wasn't all sitting and talking, however, as the girls were led in several exercises that included palm strikes and knees to the groin. They also demonstrated how simple actions such as tossing keys to the ground can be used to escape potentially dangerous situations.

"We want you to become the predator," Kaselouskas said. "If someone gets into your personal space, it's already too late."

The program was brought to Westborough by Stone after the murder of Westborough High School graduate Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott shocked the community in October. Van Olden, also a mother of two girls, agreed to reduce the rate, normally $95 per session, to just $35. All excess funds will be donated to the Lizzi Marriott fund.

Stone said she reached out to friends and acquaintances in surrounding areas to bring in as many people as possible.

Sisters Morgan and Allie Rains, both of Northborough, said their parents found out about the training opportunity and made sure to sign them up.

"I'm going off to college next year, and I guess they wanted to be sure I knew how to protect myself," said Morgan, a senior at Bancroft High School in Worcester.

Even with all the skills and strategies presented to those in attendance, Van Olden said her hope is that it is all unnecessary.

"Hopefully you will never, ever have to use any of these skills," she said.

Saturday's courses will be held from 9 am to noon, 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough.

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