For Sally Cadoux, personal training and personal safety are not parallel tracks. As a fitness trainer and yoga instructor at Norwalk’s Calasanz Martial Arts Center, she has helped individuals in their pursuit of better health. But over the past few years, she grew increasingly concerned over the personal safety of younger women.
Cadoux’s apprehension was backed with statistics: an American College Health Association study released earlier this year found only 34 percent of college-age women felt safe at night on their school’s campus, while only about 20 percent felt safe going out in their communities during the late evening. Also, 16 percent of the college-age women polled for the study admitted to being on the receiving end of verbal threats, while 8 percent admitted to being in emotionally abusive relationships and nearly 8 percent were victimized by sexual touching without their consent.
“It is essential for girls and women today to learn how to set healthier boundaries that include personal safety practices,” said Cadoux, who has a black belt in kickboxing. “I believed that someone had to get out there and do it. But who was going to do? I looked around and said, ‘I guess I’m it because I’m the one who takes all of these martial arts classes.’”
In March, Cadoux launched Athena Personal Safety Training, with the goal of presenting a different philosophical approach to self-defense education.
“I am committed to move this forward and redefine the definition of wellness by recognizing the world is very different now and we need to take on another layer,” she said. “I wanted to take it away from scary self-defense classes with aggressive people that are typically taught by men. It is no wonder that a lot of women don’t want to go to that type of class – it’s too aggressive and they’re scared. It is overcomplicated. A woman has to be able to step forward and say, ‘You can be fearless, you can live courageously, you have to learn to take it seriously but still maintain your femininity.’”
Although Cadoux has the option of working from the Calasanz Martial Arts Center for these classes, she prefers to go on the road and meet with her program participants in their work or school environments.
“I don’t want to take on a rent and have people think they can only learn about personal safety and wellness by coming to a studio,” she said. “I go out to corporations, hospitals, colleges, universities, high schools and I hold workshops. For the corporate setting, it is resiliency-based corporate development and leadership focus – and a lot of times, young professionals and millennials learn that part of their wellness needs to be developed through personal safety, which is awareness – and prevention – based, and through self-defense, which also helps with managing stress.”
Her workshops include lessons in mental fitness training, effective listening, setting boundaries, situation analysis, risk assessment and management, bystander intervention and physical self-defense training. Sessions are typically two hours long and programs are customized to meet specific audience needs. While Cadoux welcomes both men and women in her workshops, she has noticed a significant difference when men are absent from the mix – women speak more frankly
“They don’t disclose when men are in the room – it is a very different type of element. They disclose and when you teach them these things – give them a voice – they feel so much better, it becomes a part of their journey and their therapy. And if the class is just women, I do professional development through leadership, confidence building – talking about how you get grounded so you can see clearly. Everybody is in such a rush that we are time – starved, but the more you get grounded and look around and start seeing where you are, the more time you end up having because you are utilizing it in a more efficiently and nonreactive way. People need these tools.”
Yet Cadoux pointed out that her training system should not be mistaken for fitness training. “The physical components are very easy from my training,” she said. “I took the complicated ones and brought them down to a very basic and easy level. Self-defense is not martial arts, although martial arts helps me with my reaction time.”
Since beginning her business, Cadoux has kept her startup costs to a bare minimum, with website development and the printing of fliers, and her business leads are being generated via social media and referrals. She is already moved beyond the one-woman-shop status by creating the Athena Ambassadorship Program for high school-level girls to work as instructors for younger audiences.
“I recently trained three girls from Westhill High School in Stamford in the Athena methodology and they are now full ambassadors,” she said. “I brought them to a middle school seminar where they were working with younger girls as role models. I gave them community service hours and a paper that they could take back to their schools.”
Cadoux said she is holding workshops across Connecticut and New York, and her ultimate goal is to bring Athena nationwide.
“It is gaining traction,” she said. “I need to set a different standard. I need to become that standard. I am leaving the self-defense standard behind.”