Redondo Beach couple celebrates upcoming nuptials with sex trafficking awareness run

Kidnapping survivor Amanda Blackwood and her fiancee, Stephen Daley, will celebrate their forthcoming wedding. Photo by Stephen Daley.
Kidnapping survivor Amanda Martin and her fiancee, Stephen Daley, will celebrate their forthcoming wedding. Photo by Stephen Daley.

Kidnapping survivor Amanda Blackwood and her fiancee, Stephen Daley, will celebrate their forthcoming wedding. Photo by Stephen Daley

Since their engagement in January, Amanda Blackwood and her fiancee, Stephen Daley, have been running toward their wedding at full speed, settling on an August date for their Las Vegas nuptials.

But between their Redondo Beach home and Vegas, the two are making a stop in Santa Clarita on May 30. There, Blackwood and Daley will spin their bridal shower into a charity event, participating in a 5K run benefitting Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that frees children being sold into sex slavery and breaks up sex trafficking rings.

The cause, Blackwood says, holds a particularly deep meaning for her. Fifteen years ago, she narrowly escaped being sold into slavery herself.

She was 19 years old, in Florida to stay with her grandmother and have reparative knee surgery to fix torn cartilage. However, a family dispute left her without a place to stay.

“I only had five dollars to my name,” Blackwood said, “and I was taken in by a couple I met at the bus station.”

That’s where her nightmare began.

After being sexually assaulted in the night by the man, she was taken by his friend and locked in a house with boarded and bricked-up windows. There she heard the screams of other girls who were locked inside of the house.

The bulk of what happened is still so traumatic that Blackwood had difficulty recounting her tale at length. “It took me several tries to get it out” onto her personal blog, she said.

There, she describes the entire 23 hour ordeal in painstaking detail. Most of Blackwood’s efforts were futile: She tried prying up floorboards, ripping out window coverings, and carving holes into the locked door of her room, all in vain.

Her salvation came when she put together a human-shaped dummy under a sheet to distract her captor, allowing her to slip out of an open door.

“I set up a decoy and really used my brain,” she said. “I was damn lucky to get out. I knew I couldn’t overpower him. I knew I had to be smarter than he was, and even then I barely got out of there.”

The fact that it took quick thinking, and a touch of luck, to spring her from her captors is what worries her most. “These kids are really young — Operation Underground Railroad is asking for clothes for children that are under size ten. There’s no way a kid of eight years old is going to have the mental capacity to get themselves out,” she said.

But it’s not just her experiences that are pushing her toward helping O.U.R. during her wedding celebration. According to her maid of honor, Linda Reilly, it’s just part of her nature.

“I’ve gone out with her to lunch, and if there’s a service member, anyone in uniform, I’ve watched this woman sneak up to the cash register, hand the cashier a $20, tell them to pay for that service member’s lunch,” Reilly said.

Knowing that Blackwood is driven to help people, she proposed the idea of a charity-themed wedding shower — and when Reilly stumbled upon the organizers of the 5K, she knew she had hit the jackpot.

“I can’t imagine having a history where this has been part of someone’s life,” said event organizer Renae Kirby. “I think that shaped her desire to help save as many people as possible, and I’m happy that she’s willing to do it through O.U.R. and to help promote and support our events.”

Kirby has been a supporter of O.U.R. since attending a charity event in October, and devised the idea for a 5K while on a morning run with her friend and co-organizer Rebecca Judd. “I think this subject spans Democrats and Republicans, upper class, middle class — there’s no specific demographic,” Kirby said. “Everyone is devastated that this is happening, and there’s a community of people who are united by the realization that this has to end.”

Kirby’s goal, she said, is to raise $25,000 — or the cost to fund one of Operation Underground Railroad’s rescue operations. With the help of private backers covering the operational costs of running the race, “every penny from registration and raffle tickets goes straight to O.U.R. — nothing that people are paying goes to the costs of the event,” Kirby said.

Blackwood’s fiancee, Steve Daley, has called this “the first of many [O.U.R.] events we’ll support.”

“This one is special for us because we’re using this for the bridal shower,” he said. “Don’t go to Macy’s and buy us something — we have everything that we need. Let’s do something that helps contribute to the world.”

For Blackwood, the event is an opportunity for celebration as much as it is a chance to raise awareness of sex trafficking. “This isn’t just something that happens in Taiwan or Mexico or Guatemala,” she said. “This is happening to people in our own backyard, every singe day, where kids are being sold to people overseas.”

“I want to go back for the kids that I wasn’t able to go back for when I was 19,” Blackwood said. “I want to pull them out of there and give them a better shot at life.”

For more information on the 2015 O.U.R. Rescue Run, visit active.com/santa-clarita-ca/running/races/o-u-r-rescue-run-2015.

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