Safe Chicks classes give girls a fighting chance |

Safe Chicks classes give girls a fighting chance

The Denver Post
**FOR USE ON WEEKEND EDITIONS OF JUNE 20-21**In this photograph taken on Sunday, May 17, 2009, sisters Allie Schneider, 16, left, and Courtney Schneider, 18, right, practice hitting with force a pad during a self-defense class geared to young women in Englewood, Colo. Anne Diamond, who is a mother of a former student at Kent Denver Country Day School, created the Safe Chicks program that teaches young women how to defend themselves as they head off into the work world or college. self-defense and awareness to protect them when they leave home for college. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Helen H. Richardson)
AP | The Denver Post

DENVER, Colorado – Most women’s self-defense classes teach participants the fundamentals of how to fend off an attacker. Shouting, using keys as a weapon, and learning to kick are all part of the course.

But a local program targeted at high school students who are preparing for college does that and more: It encourages them to develop mental awareness and adopt habits so they’ll avoid getting into dangerous situations to begin with.

Safe Chicks, which will be a required course for senior girls at Kent Denver School beginning this fall, was started by Anne Diamond last year. Just months before Diamond’s daughter Emily was scheduled to enroll in college, a student was found dead at the school she planned to attend.

“I said, Oh my God! I know that my daughter is smart and Kent has educated her very well, but she has no knowledge of personal safety,” Diamond said. So the Diamonds, along with several other mother and daughter friends, attended a women’s self-defense class hosted by the Denver Police Academy. Diamond liked it so much that she asked the course instructor, Richard Stensgaard, to help her create a similar program aimed at senior girls.

“So many times, organizations like this are formed after a tragedy,” Diamond says, “but we teach proactive prevention and preparedness so it will never happen to my daughter or anyone else’s.”

Her daughter Emily, now a junior in college, said Safe Chicks has empowered her.

“It’s cool to see that strong side of yourself and know you have it within you, should you ever need it,” she says.

“Success isn’t living through an attack; it’s not ever having been attacked because of the knowledge, awareness and skills you get from a class like this,” Diamond said.

The four-hour course is divided into two sessions. In the first two hours, retired Denver Police Sgt. Margaret Chavez lectures about avoiding potentially violent situations while living on a college campus. Chavez tells how everyday activities such as running with an iPod blasting away, not locking doors and windows after getting into cars and leaving (or being left) alone when at parties or bars puts women in positions where they can be targets.

Next, Stensgaard, the Denver Police Department’s lead defense tactics programmer, lectures about how to combat the body’s natural physiological tendency to freeze up when it perceives danger. He leads the class through several basic defenses designed to quickly distract or incapacitate an assailant and then flee, emphasizing principle over technique.

The goal isn’t to get into a knock-down fight with an assailant but to be able to deliver a blow, kick, punch or whatever is necessary to get away.

If the altercation gets physical, Stensgaard tells the girls, they have the right to “unleash hell.”

“Most of the predators out there are basically cowards who want easy targets,” he says. “We try to teach the girls how to harden themselves to let attackers know they’ve picked the wrong person.”

At the beginning of a recent session held in a Kent Denver classroom, nervous giggling and fidgeting peppered the audience of 15 attendees.

Many were squeamish at first, like Meg Meagher, 16, who groaned when Chavez re-enacted a movement where she was forcing a key into an imaginary attacker’s eye. Don’t fight like a girl, she warns. Hit with a vengeance.

“Other girls from previous classes have asked, ‘What if I hurt my attacker?’ ” Chavez said. “You want to hurt them, so they focus on their injuries and you can run.”

Courtney Schneider, 18, said she hoped the training would make her feel more in control of her safety.

“There is nothing that can make you feel 100 percent secure,” she said. “But we can come closer to it with certain knowledge or training.”

Training assistant Pam Jackson sneaked up behind attendees to see if they would be able to defend themselves.

“People have died trying to dial 911 because their logical brain just shut down and they had no motor skills,” Stensgaard said. “It’s a normal reaction. There is nothing wrong with you if that happens.”

Stensgaard explained breathing exercises to help slow the heart rate and keep the body ready to defend itself. Stiff, awkward movements soon became well-placed, explosive, fluid knee kicks.

“Mindset is the key,” he said. “Your kick doesn’t have to be perfect, but at the same time, don’t fight if you aren’t willing to get down and dirty. Take advantage of the element of surprise, get a few shots in and run away.”

Kathe Barron, who attended the course with her daughter Avery, said she had “never hit anything” in her life because women are taught to be nice.

“But it was very liberating to be able to yell and hit,” as classmates cheered her on to stronger, harder knee kicks.

“Just make sure you look first, then hit, Mom!” her daughter said, wincing when the impact of one of Barron’s off-center strikes came dangerously close to her face.


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