In the second installation of our new series, humans we admire, the be.come project sat down with Mirna Valerio, an American Ultramarathon runner who advocates for inclusion within the running community for those who don’t have stereotypically lean and muscular bodies. Here is what she had to say.
jaime: Why did you decide to share your journey with others? You embody the be.come project philosophy of exercising because we respect our bodies not because we hate them, but did you feel a sense of responsibility to show an oft-ignored part of the fitness industry?
mirna: I wanted to share my journey mostly with my family and friends, to show them what it was like to be a larger endurance athletes in a field of thinner folks and also to offer a little inspiration and motivation to those that needed it. I absolutely respect my body, and I do what I do because I love it. I don’t feel any responsibility to show anything to the fitness industry, since it’s typically been very hostile to bodies like mine. I do feel an urge to show up for people that need to see me.
jaime: Why do you think it often takes something threatening like a health scare to get us to make these positive changes for ourselves?
mirna: Often we already know that there is something amiss, whether it’s with our physical or mental well-being. For me personally, when I thought about my then 5-year-old son as a victim of my own possible early mortality, the fact that I could change that and not contribute to the deficiency in intergenerational health drove me to look inward and take care of myself. Sometimes it takes an external message to open your eyes and heart.
jaime: You’ve experienced a lot of the inherent bias against women and people of color in the fitness industry. How do you combat that? What advice do you have for people facing similar scrutiny?
mirna: Bias takes many different forms, and the one that I (and others like me) am constantly up against is the prevailing notion that fitness has a particular body-type, body shape, body constitution, speed, and gender-specific attributes. So when I enter a space, physically or online, and I do not fit in with folks’ ideas of what I should like or be in order to belong in the space, that’s when the comments or YouTube response videos abound. They always attack my weight, of course, which is rooted both in sexism and racism, and make interesting assumptions about my eating habits, lifestyle, and whether I really run at all.
I just keep doing what I’m doing. Fortunately, I don’t really care whether or not folks think I belong in a particular fitness space. I’m here to do me. I’m here to be a presence for all who need to see someone like me in their lives, living my best life openly and unabashedly.
My advice? Keep doing you. Create your own community of badass people, especially if you don’t already belong to one. Keep on sharing your exploits and adventures with others. Be great. Work hard. Repeat.
jaime: I’ve read about how much you love nature and the outdoors. What are some of the most memorable places you’ve trained/run?
mirna: I really love running in Alaska, more specifically Tongass National Forest. Squaw Valley in California and the gorgeous mountains of Northern Idaho are favorites too! I also adore trail-running in any and all parts of Colorado. All that being said, I’m very, very partial to trails on the east coast, because as you know, the east coast is the beast coast –The Green Mountains of Vermont, The Adirondacks of Upstate New York (my home state), The White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Blue Ridge of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, and the Poconos of Pennsylvania.
jaime: Is there anything else you would like the be.come project community to know?
mirna: While I am not out to change the minds of folks with limited perspectives and experiences with bodies like mine, I am out to gently nudge folks that live in bodies similar to mine that they can be athletes too. It’s a matter of shifting their perspective, believing in themselves, and simply taking that first step for themselves.
You can follow Mirna’s journey @themirnavator