“As a girl, I would constantly be told to know my place, suppress my voice, and act in a certain manner,” says 29-year old Mira Rai, who’s been honored as National geographic’s adventurer of the year 2017 . “For me, breaking free from these traditions itself was a big dream.”
She has indeed come a long way from once hauling rice sacks through the Himalayas, to now winning international trail races. As the eldest of five children, Mira was expected to manage daily chores like fetching water and scaling the steep slopes of the mountains in order to get to the marketplace to trade crops. Managing these tasks became impossible and hence she had to give up on school. But she has no regrets about this except for not being able to speak English fluently when she’s running abroad. All this scaling was the initial training she needed to be a future trail runner.
At the age of 14, when Maoist rebels came through her village, Rai decided to join them to make money and seek a different life. With the Rs. 250 she would earn, Mira would buy the basic necessities she couldn’t afford otherwise. Her drill with the rebels included running, physical exercise, hand-to-hand combat, and weaponry with other cadets of her age. Even though she didn’t fight in any battles, the collective training made her more confident and self-reliant.
Two years back, Rai was finally discovered by two male runners while running outside of Kathmandu and was invited to enter her first trail race, the Kathmandu West Valley Rim 50K. With no special gear or training, Rai was the only woman running this 31 mile run. And it was no surprise that she beat everyone and one this run hands down. This was the farthest she had run and seeing this there was a community of supporters who came together to give Rai a chance to compete in international trail running competitions.
Today she’s carved a niche for herself in the running world as a high-elevation trail racing phenomenon. Her mission being to help both women and men of Nepal through sports. While recovering from her ACL surgery, she’s had little time at hand. Despite this, she has been providing guidance to men and women alike in running and encouraging them to pursue a career as professional athletes. She dreams of running in the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in France, which is a challenging 100-mile race for elite runners. Why Rai wants to participate is because she wants to know where she stands in this internationally acclaimed race.
Image Courtesy: National Geographic