ROCK SPRINGS — On October 22, 2018, Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah track and field student athlete, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend after he abducted her in the parking lot outside of her dorm on the University of Utah campus. Lauren’s life was taken. And life for many more changed on that fateful October night.
Not only had the senseless tragedy sent shockwaves throughout the state of Utah and the entire country, but it had also altered Mesa Weidle’s life.
Weidle, a native of Rock Springs, felt guilty, cheated and hurt after hearing the news of her friend and teammate. Both McCluskey and Weidle were on Utah’s track and field team and had formed a friendship. The two had been at a practice together just four hours prior to the shooting. However, in a split second, her friend was gone.
“I was pretty shaken up about it,” Weidle said. “I couldn’t grasp what was going on.”
Devastated, Weidle struggled through the grieving process. Life wasn’t the same.
“I went through the grief process and just felt like I wasn’t safe anymore,” Weidle said.
Counseling helped, but it didn’t heal. Weidle spent as little time on campus as she could. She was stricken with fear. Fear for herself and other women around her.
“It was kind of triggering for me just being on campus,” Weidle said. “I was worried about my teammates and all the other girls I knew.”
In one discussion with a school advisor, Weidle was informed about a nonprofit organization called SASS Go that had come to the University of Utah to hold educational sessions and teach self defense for women.
Weidle asked her coach if she could move practice in order to attend the class. With her coach’s full support, she walked into her first class late after practice had ended. Again, a life-altering event took place for Weidle, this time for the better.
Weidle’s late arrival to the class presented an opportunity for a conversation with the CEO of the organization. The conversation was overwhelming and the beginning of her healing.
“I had an unreal experience with the CEO of the organization at the time. We exchanged some kind words and it was an overwhelming experience for me. It’s hard to put into words what I felt in that class. I felt like I knew these women my whole life. I remember leaving that class and I didn’t feel afraid walking home anymore. I felt that weight lifted off my chest that I had been carrying around with me. I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Weidle said.
Soon after her first class, she found the organization online and reached out to see how she could become involved. After fulfilling a few requirements, she became an independent instructor with SASS Go in September of 2019.
After graduating with a degree in kinesiology along with a minor in nutrition, Weidle left the University of Utah with the education she went to obtain, but she had also left with a greater purpose and understanding of herself and her future.
“Now it’s my passion,” Weidle said. “It’s what I want to do.”
“My boss will tell you that she feels like Lauren directed her to come to me. For whatever reason we crossed paths and it’s changed my life,” Weidle said.
Coming Full Circle
When she received her certification in September, she was invited to teach her first class at an event in Lauren’s honor in her hometown, Pullman, Wash., in October of 2019. Participating in Weidle’s first self defense class was Lauren’s mother, Jill McCluskey. In a bitter-sweet way, Weidle’s journey had finally come full circle with Lauren taking center stage. The gaping hole left by Lauren’s tragedy had partly been filled in by helping educate other women.
“That’s really the reason I got involved in this is to honor Lauren and help anyone that may be or could be in her situation,” Weidle said.
“There’s a lot of good things that have happened since the tragedy. But it’s just sad that it had to happen,” Weidle said.
Weidle has taught just a handful of classes since her first one in Washington. She moved back to Rock Springs where she works as a substitute teacher and teaches self defense on the side. She currently hosts one class a month, but aims to hold them more frequently.
Giving women the tools necessary to defend themselves in any situation is important for Weidle and a belief that drives her to continue helping her sisters from all walks of life. She has found that her self defense courses have not only taught self defense, but empowered women.
“Ultimately I just want change to happen,” Weidle said. “I want women to be believed and listened to, but if they are not, at least I have the tools I can give them. I think something that I realized through this class is that you get so much more than just learning about self defense, it’s more of an empowerment, knowing your self worth.”
Weidle says that women have a “disease to please” which can sometimes put women in dangerous or unnecessary circumstances.
“We are life giving. We are nurturing people. But sometimes we put ourselves on the back burner because we want someone else to be happy. It’s OK to say no,” Weidle said.
Self defense is a vehicle that Weidle uses to spread Lauren’s legacy.
“It’s been really healing for me. I never know who it’s going to touch, spreading her story. But I feel like I owe that to Lauren to not let her legacy die with her. She had so much more to offer than what she lived.”
Weidle hopes that she can reach all women. Her ultimate goal is to become an instructor at a college. This year, she is planning by August 2020 to travel the United States, visiting colleges and teaching two-hour courses for eight months.
While self defense awareness is a need across all age groups, college-age women hold a special place in Weidle’s heart. According to her, college-age women are at a greater risk than other women. By making a difference in one person’s life, she knows it will be worth it.
“You’re not always going to know how much you help, but just knowing that you’re helping at least one person makes it worth it for me,” Weidle said.
Although the rest of Weidle’s story has yet to be written, she has peace of mind and confidence in the future.
“Honestly it could happen to a lot of people, it just happened to be my friend. Honoring Lauren is huge for me in this,” Weidle said.
“Wherever it takes me, I’m willing to go,” Weidle said.
Sweetwater NOW will be doing a follow up article on one of Mesa Weidle’s self defense classes.