When my husband, Dylan, and I lived in Nepal from 2012-2013, we had the privilege of exploring some of its remotest corners while trekking and adventure traveling. While I tended to spend my weekend mornings at Pranamaya Yoga Studio, Dylan ventured high into mountains of the Kathmandu Valley rim alongside a pack of zealous ultra-runners. He always loved running, but Nepal brought out the true trail runner in him and introduced him to a group of friends he maintains contact with regularly. That's one of the beautiful things about the ultra trail running community; it's tight-knit, and well, quite small compared to other sports.
Shortly after we left Nepal, a new runner surfaced and rose through the ranks of this male-dominated (and in Nepal, foreigner-dominated) sport: Mira Rai. Hailing from the far reaches of Bhojpur, in remote eastern Nepal, Mira grew up similarly to other girls in rural areas. She was not able to regularly attend school, as she was charged with caring for the home and her siblings. In fact, it was her long walk to get water that stirred in Mira a love of running. She figured, why not move a little faster? Later, around the age of 14, Mira joined a local faction of Maoist insurgents, becoming one of thousands of Nepali child soldiers who found themselves in the midst of a bloody civil war from 1996-2006. Despite the difficulty of life as a soldier, Mira found satisfaction in the relative gender equality she experienced while serving in her regiment. It was here that she discovered organized sports and unearthed her passion for participating in athletics.
In 2014, some years after the conflict ended, Mira was running in the hills of the Kathmandu Valley when she happened upon Nepali Army soldiers who were doing their daily physical training. They invited her to train with them that following Sunday. Mira showed up to an organized 50-kilometer ultra marathon...and won first place. Not first female, first overall. Those same guys that Dylan used to run with quickly realized she was a natural talent. Advocating for sponsorship and support, they managed to assist her in registering for global ultra competitions, in which she won several first place medals.
Back in November, Mira was up for National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Dylan and I, who both teach at the same school, showed a brief clip about her to our students and encouraged them to vote. Do you know what happens when you ask ten and eleven-year-olds to vote? They vote. SO MANY TIMES. Mira did end up winning the competition; check out the special page and video that Nat Geo has compiled about her.
After a whirlwind of destined events this past week, Dylan saw on social media that Mira was in Los Angeles this week and reached out to her U.S. sponsors. We went to see her speak at a local high school and invited her to speak at our school. Our students could not ask enough questions! Mira thanked them endlessly with her ear-to-ear signature smile for their votes, and much to our happiness, our students agreed it was certainly a 2016-2017 year highlight! In the evening, we had the pleasure of dining with Mira and her sponsors, where she shared with me her vision for expanding accessibility of organized sports to young females across Nepal. While sharing deliciously authentic dal bhat, we agreed that this is a crucial step (of many) for women's empowerment in Nepal.
If her story piques your interest, I would highly recommend watching this documentary about Mira and her journey in the face of adversity to global recognition in ultra marathon trail running. Mira continues to impress the world with her positivity, her bright countenance and her genuine love for humanity, despite the challenges that have befallen her for most of her life. Mira represents precisely the ideals that Dignity Collective is working tirelessly to uphold, and I love how her story has become such a true inspiration for young women (and men!) in Nepal.