Laken Riley is running on empty

The beginning of the run is the hardest part. It takes time for your body to warm up, settle into a new rhythm and get used to the higher level of oxygen.

People don't think that, though. They think that the longer you go, the harder it gets and the more tired you are. But that's not the case.

I have been a runner for as long as I can remember. As a former athlete, running has always been a part of me. I've had the same 3-mile running route through Hinsdale since the seventh grade, and a similar one here in Athens.

Running outside has always been a different kind of workout for me, one that's less about my body and more about my mind. How many times have I been stressed, sad or anxious, and grabbed my running shoes in pursuit of a clearer head? I can't even count.

Well, not anymore.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, was murdered here on the UGA campus while she was out on her morning run. The 26-year-old man who killed Laken was an illegal immigrant.

When I heard, I couldn't help but wonder, "What makes Laken any different from me?" Just like Laken, I have hopes and dreams and a life just begging to be lived. Just like Laken, I regularly lace up my running shoes and begin my run outside without thinking twice about it.

UGA Police Chief Jeff Clark called Laken's death a "crime of opportunity." But it was more than that. It was a crime of inaction and poor policy decisions by a government whose job it is to protect its citizens.

The murderer was the perpetrator, but those in power also were partly responsible. Now, Laken's death has sparked a movement across the country of those who believe our immigration and bail policies are frivolous and dangerous. But that's a more complex story for a different day.

Right now, the story I want to tell is for women everywhere, who feel more afraid than they did before.

A survey conducted by Adidas in 2023 found that 92 percent of women feel concerned for their safety, with 51 percent feeling afraid of being physically attacked.

It's a shame that women fear for their lives when they go out for a run. They should not have to pick up their pace when a man passes by or hold their car keys in their hands as a makeshift weapon or preserve enough stamina because they think they may need to quickly escape.

The failure to protect Americans, especially women, is a problem we must address, before another young girl becomes the victim of a world that has failed her.

The first mile is always the hardest. Until the last mile. Laken Riley, rest in peace.

- Katie Hughes of Hinsdale is a senior at the University of Georgia. Readers can email her at [email protected].