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Amador Valley gym class practices how to avoid abduction

Self-defense class credited with helping teens stay safe

The large male lumbered toward the teenage girl, grabbing her by the arm and jerking toward a waiting van.

Fifteen-year-old Amanda Furrer was ready. She hit her would-be assailant in the face, broke his grip and ran.

Her gym class -- watching from 10 feet away -- cheered. In reality, the assailant was a volunteering sophomore wearing padded armor, the van was two cones on the floor and the entire episode was a self-defense exercise at Amador Valley High.

About 30 teens in Dawn Silva's Lifetime Fitness physical education course at Amador Valley -- which includes lessons throughout the year on Zumba, yoga and pilates -- learned techniques to avoid and escape abduction and assault over the course of three weeks. Their final examination came early this month, when students practiced their wrist escapes, groin kicks and other techniques.

Ron Esteller, owner of Esteller Martial Arts and lead instructor of the anti-abduction lessons, said the goal is two-fold: To give teenagers the skills to get away in an emergency, and to give them the confidence to know how to respond if they're in danger. He's taught the lessons to Silva's classes for six years.

"If I've saved one child, it's worth it. More importantly, giving these young ladies the confidence and the assurance that they can escape," he said, noting the vast majority of the students he teaches in Silva's class are women, but a few boys have taken her course.

Esteller knows the statistics. Abductions by strangers are extremely rare; however, the skills he teaches are applicable in other scenarios, such as avoiding date rape or other dangerous situations.

It's personal to Estella, whose his young cousin was one of the few children to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger in 1979. He has dedicated his life to giving others the tools to prevent such a tragedy.

Silva said a student of hers who took this course was able to escape when a stranger grabbed her arm at a Capitola beach. Esteller shared a story with students about a young woman whose drunk boyfriend tried to drag her into his van so they could drive away together.

Silva said a course like this helps students "be aware of their surroundings and to not be afraid but be confident that they have some power."

One of Esteller's lessons teaches students how to get away when someone's grabbed their wrist by targeting the weak point in their grip. If that doesn't work right away, some ear slaps, groin kicks and punches get thrown in.

Part of the class is prevention, he said. Dangerous people often look for easy targets to rob or attack, and women who are looking around or walking intently aren't as easy to sneak up on.

Furrer, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she and her mom have discussed what to do if someone follows her or if someone grabs her, but taking a course like this calms most of her anxiety about that possibility.

"I'm not super worried about it, but I know to be aware of my surroundings," she said. "It teaches me to use my strength because I know women are strong."

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