For Norma Bastidas, running is a release – a means of confronting her problems by first taking the time to care for herself. “I try to be as kind to myself as possible,” she says, “Because the world hasn’t always been that kind.”
Bastidas, born in Mazatlan, Mexico, remembers the way her life took a turn for the worse when her father passed away. She was only 11, and her mother was a single parent with five kids raising a family in which everyone had to work to survive. Bastidas, already disadvantaged, would eventually face even deeper hardships
She talks about being a “pleaser” to avoid conflict when her father was still a life-threateningly violent alcoholic. “I became the one who was always sent to calm my dad when he was angry, “ she said, “I was always the one that never said anything, and that teaches you the wrong lessons about standing up to abuse.”
She remembered her uncle “…who was blind, and [who she] was caring for,” at the time. When she was just 11, he raped her. Bastidas waited until she was 13 to tell her mother, feeling she couldn’t because of the financial support he provided her family. But her mother’s response wasn’t the one she was looking for. When she told her essentially to brush it off, Bastidas did so by drinking – the only way this 13-year-old girl lacking love and understanding could brush off something so scarring.
After further trouble in Mexico, Bastidas was offered a modeling position in Japan and took the opportunity. She hoped it would be a way to turn her life around and provide her family with much-needed support.
Once in Japan, Bastidas quickly realized she wasn’t going to be a model. Instead she became a victim of human trafficking, left without a passport, unable to communicate with those around her and told she had a large debt to pay.
After nine months of being told she was “lucky” to be “abused by prominent men in prominent places,” her debt was paid. However, at this point she was in Japan illegally, and still had no passport or language skills to speak of.
Help came though, in the form of a nearby convent. Bastidas was able to relocate to Canada and begin a new life, but she certainly wasn’t rid of the nightmares she had encountered. Her drinking habit, brought upon by the years of suffering she endured, was only broken when she learned that her oldest son had a degenerative eye disease, cone-rod retinal dystrophy. She wanted to be there for him, to be “present.”
“So I started running at night. Because I didn’t want them to hear me crying.”
In just six months, she qualified for the Boston Marathon, becoming “an incredible runner because of the incredible amount of stress” that she had to endure.
Since then Bastidas has climbed the highest peak on every continent to raise money to find a cure for childhood genetic blindness, and she has completed the world’s longest triathlon (created by her and a friend).
The triathlon followed a known route of human traffickers from Cancún to Washington DC, and took Bastidas a total of 65 days to swim, bike and run to complete.
But Bastidas doesn’t run just to forget. She says that, “To be effective as an activist I have to be able to feel the pain and humiliation I experienced…feeling everything is a curse, but so is numbness.”
Bastidas teaches us that while it’s the underprivileged who often suffer the most, it’s those who suffer that often have the most to offer.