Spreading the love one stride at a time
At 41 years old and 250 pounds, Mirna Valerio knows that she surprises people who learn she has run multiple marathons and ultramarathons. After a health scare prompted her to change her lifestyle, she started running again. She lost around 61 pounds before her body plateaued—but that isn’t holding her back from continuing to exercise regularly.
At the Northface Endurance Challenge in Virginia, Mirna was motivated to finish by thinking of all the atypical bodies that she was representing.
Her goals as a runner shifted from primarily focusing on her own health to proving that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.
“This was 2011. I had lost all the weight that I was gonna lose. My body just wouldn’t budge,” Mirna says.
By then, Mirna’s blog, FatGirlRunning, had garnered a lot of attention. “I knew that people were watching and reading and listening, and some people were gaining inspiration from my own journey.”
As an educator, Mirna has a wonderful opportunity to spread her message of body positivity. “I coach cross country at my school. That’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that I do what I do in the body that I have.”
Mirna is very conscious of how she speaks around her students. “I don’t complain about my body [and] the way I look. It’s very deliberate because I know I’m dealing with really young, malleable minds. I want to demonstrate that I’m completely 100% okay with the body that I have.”
“I’m slow. I can’t run a 10 minute mile. And I’m happy with that. I’m trying to teach a lifestyle of ‘love your body, do what you can in terms of physical activity to keep your body in shape and to make sure you can walk when you’re old’.”
At the start of races, Mirna likes to look around and see what kind of bodies are participating with her. “Am I the only fat person?” She likes to see “what new bodies are here. I try to guess why they are here. Is this their 10th half marathon? Are they trying out trail running? Are they trying to lose weight? It’s probably the same questions that people are asking themselves of me. I want to catch somebody’s eye and give them the nod. You look at people and solidify your sense of community. I don’t know what you’re here for but we’re here and we’re gonna do it. And to this day, that’s what I do, I look at people and I try to catch their eye.”
Mirna has fitting advice for people starting their own health and wellness journey.
“Number one: do not ever compare yourself to somebody else and to where they are on their journey. They may be years ahead of you or months ahead of you or even a couple days ahead of you. That makes a huge difference in what people can do, how far they can go and how long they can do something.”
“You cannot compare yourself to them because you are going to feel defeated every single time. It’s your journey, stick to your own journey and celebrate your accomplishments.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t have goals. “You can look at other people for inspiration. One day I’d like to be able to run a mile in 10 minutes, but you know your journey is your own. It doesn’t belong to anybody else and you shouldn’t be concerned with somebody else’s journey.”
“If you are able to look inward, that will bring you way further than looking outward and depending on other people for inspiration. Find what floats your boat and stop looking at other people and comparing yourself to them.”
Mirna has dealt with negative attention from people who don’t believe she’s accomplished all that she has. While she’s happy to be a role model for the non-typical athlete, she warns her followers that people are going to say awful things.
“People have this really narrow perspective or idea about what human bodies can look like. Yes, that is out there, but [again] this journey is about you. If I can help people to practice that and to practice pride in their bodies and what their bodies can do then I have done my job. People are going to be haters, but if I have a really good message, I’m doing good for myself and for others in my community.”
Still, she is happy to have been on the cover of Women’s Running Magazine and featured in a recent segment of REI’s new documentary. She wants to see bodies like hers more in the media. “I want to see somebody that looks like myself. I see somebody on the cover of a magazine that kind of looks like me or that I have something in common with, that’s amazing.
Mirna is also quick to point out that healthy body perception varies from culture to culture. Her husband, Cito, is from Burkina Faso in West Africa. Mirna laughs over a 10K that she tried to do with her brother-in-law. He raced ahead of her and was spent after a mile, while she took her time to complete the 10K. When she returned home, he told her, “you are losing too much weight. You look good the way you are. You are healthy.” She adds “And I was bigger than I am now.”
“Different cultures have a different perspective on what the human body can look like and what’s okay and what’s not okay.”
In “A Beautiful Work in Progress”, Mirna writes that “fitness is for all bodies and all people and all hearts.” She has goals that she still wants to achieve both in terms of fitness and in her personal life. “I’m going to keep trying to push my body’s perceived limits and for me that looks like longer distances. Next year I want to try to do the World’s Toughest Mudder, which is a 24 hour Tough Mudder.”
Mirna also has two more book ideas that she hopes to write. “I’ve been getting a lot of speaking engagements which is really cool. That’s a very natural thing for me to do. I am a performing artist and I love public speaking and I think I have a message. I want to find a way to spread that and start a movement.”
Mirna embodies She’s It’s belief that “Everybody is Different and Every Body is Different.” She is a true inspiration both as an athlete and a woman. To hear Mirna’s story in her own words, check out “A Beautiful Work in Progress”.