Borough woman running to give back

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Jenny Willets of Naugatuck celebrates after running the Diva Half Marathon in New York. She used to race to raise money to help victims of domestic abuse.

NAUGATUCK — Jenny Willets of Naugatuck is not just a survivor. She is a thriver.

After leaving an abusive relationship two years ago, Willets is now giving back to the organization that helped her get her life back.

Willets is running to raise money for the Connecticut Alliance for Victims of Violence and Their Families (CT-ALIVE). CT-ALIVE sponsors workshops and other free programs to help women put their lives back together after abuse.

One of the workshops sponsored by CT-ALIVE is My Avenging Angel, which is run by domestic abuse survivor Susan Omilian for women who have already left abusive situations and are trying to get more out of life than just surviving.

It was at these workshops where Willets began to rebuild her confidence.

“It’s sort of hard to get back into living your life really fully and sort of get over that fear of getting hurt again. I spent a lot of time trying to sort through things on my own, and I was not happy with the progress I was making,” Willets said.

When she first left her abusive relationship, Willets said she felt amazing for the first three months. Then she started developing anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

After attending a My Avenging Angel workshop, Willets said she felt more confident and able to look towards her future.

“I think more than anything, it just helped to be around other women who had been through the workshops before … just seeing how much progress they had made,” Willets said. “Now I feel a lot stronger and happier than I ever was before even going into the abuse. It took a long time to get to this point.”

With her confidence back on track, Willets is running marathons to help raise money for CT-ALIVE and domestic abuse survivors. So far, she has raised a couple hundred dollars

On Oct. 2, Willets ran in the Diva Half Marathon in Long Island, N.Y.

“Doing the Diva Half Marathon, it just seemed so fitting to do a race about empowering women to raise money to empower women,” Willets said.

She said her first half-marathon was amazing and she finished in less time than expected.

“It was really a big victory for me on a lot of levels,” Willets said.

Running through pain and fatigue is a metaphor for the rest of her life, she said.

Willets’ abusive relationship started in college when she met a man she thought shared a lot of her interests and ideas. At first, she said, the abuse was very subtle verbal and emotional stabs. After graduate school, the derision became more noticeable. Shortly after the couple got married, six years into the relationship, Willets said it turned violent.

“It was the first time he put his hands on me and I think it was sort of a wake up call. Before that, I hadn’t really realized he had been abusive,” Willets said.

Willets left that night, fleeing to her parents’ house in the pouring rain.

“I think that it’s really difficult for a lot of women. I was lucky that I had a safe plan to get out,” Willets said.

For many women, Willets said, leaving an abusive situation can be difficult, especially if there are children involved. Abusers are good at manipulating people, Willets said, and making victims feel like they’re going crazy.

“By the time you do go to get help, a lot of times, people feel like they’re not believed,” Willets said.

Raising awareness about domestic violence and its early signs is an important step toward helping women before they become victims, Willets said. She said CT-ALIVE is starting to work with colleges to teach students about red flags for dating violence.

Willets described herself as a well-educated woman with high self esteem, and she never thought she would be the victim of domestic violence. She said domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, or income.

Willets plans to continue running for CT-Alive and her next stop will be the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 15 as part of a campaign titled “Running for the Color Purple.”

“I think one of my main goals in doing all this was to help people who have been through this and are going through this, that they are not alone. It’s not something you did that made this happen. There are possibilities for what they can do with their lives afterwards,” Willets said.

Anyone who wishes to donate can do so through the CT-ALIVE website, at www.CT-ALIVE.org. Donations are tax deductible.

Follow Willets’ progress on her blog, http://runningthriver.wordpress.com/.