Defending women everywhere, one lesson at a time

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Thirty-four college-aged women sit on the wooden floor waiting for their lesson to begin. Some are dressed in saggy basketball shorts and others wear tight leggings.  Some are tall and athletically built while others are smaller and look as though they couldn’t hardly break a toothpick.

No matter their appearance, when Sergeant Randy O’Hara walks into the room, these women are transformed into fighting machines.

Maybe fighting machines is overdoing it, but through instructions taught by O’Hara and his team, women are taught 27 defensive techniques to help them become strong and confident in protecting themselves.  By getting involved in the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program, O’Hara has positively influenced his own life as well as the lives of others he has taught and worked with.

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Randy O'Hara gives a demonstration to the class.
“Over the years, I’ve got a file of all sorts of letters and thank-you cards,” said O’Hara, a 53-year-old who sports a buzz cut and mustache. “It is even more rewarding to get the letters where their confidence in their own ability skyrockets. They realize, ‘I can rely on myself.'”

Students are grateful for what they learn, but also how they learn it.

“He’s a phenomenal instructor,” said fellow RAD instructor Amy Andrus. “He has a tremendous passion for this so he gives 100 percent to the class.”

Before coming to BYU 12 years ago, O’Hara worked for 20 years as a deputy sheriff and with the crime prevention programs. O’Hara’s friend, who was working for BYU, recommended that O’Hara come to the university, and he has been here ever since.  O’Hara oversees security for the Museum of Art building, the Harris Fine Arts building and the data center.

Before coming to BYU, O’Hara had been involved in other self-defense programs, but nothing impressed him as much as RAD.

“I immediately saw the positive influence it (RAD) had on students and I wanted to be part of that,” O’Hara explained.

Two of his three daughters went through the course, and now his wife and one daughter are certified RAD instructors.

“I think it has brought us closer together and made us all stronger,” said O’Hara’s wife, Vickie. “We are all very proud of him because it is such an important thing and because it is such a big part of his life … I think that the RAD program here in Utah wouldn’t be as good as it is if he didn’t spend as much time as he does working on it.”

Students can see O’Hara’s passion for RAD and ability to connect with those he is teaching.

“I really enjoy taking the class from him because he has been around for a while and he has his own daughters,” explained junior Chloe Palethorpe. “I like that he values it.”

Through his example, students see how he gives all he’s got to the class.

“Randy is a good teacher because he cares about his students’ safety and doesn’t mind sacrificing his body in the meantime,” said senior Jessica Hawkins.

O’Hara’s job takes a mental and physical toll, but he has his hobbies on the side to rejuvenate.

“My job is just as stressful as the next guy’s job, and I look forward to the weekend when I get in my Harley for a drive,” O’Hara explains.

When O’Hara isn’t ripping up the open road on his Harley Davidson Road King, he can be found shooting competitively with his wife.

“She beats me regularly to the point I think I might need to find a new hobby,” O’Hara jokes.

“I think he exaggerates,” Vickie said.

Someday the O’Haras’ plan on serving a mission for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  However, they still have a few more years before retirement.

In about 10 years, when O’Hara turns 62, he plans on evaluating his situation and considering future possibilities.

“If I’m still healthy and enjoying my job, then I’ll keep working,” he said. “At this stage in my life, what I’m doing is perfect.”

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