Sexual Violence Survivor Seeks to Break Ultra-Triathlon World Record to Encourage People to Be Relentless in Fight Against Human Trafficking
Norma Bastidas, a 46-year-old single mom, survivor of sexual abuse and violence, humanitarian, and the first woman ultramarathoner to complete seven ultramarathons on seven continents in seven months in 2009, now seeks to break the world record for an ultra-triathlon by completing 3,536 miles (5,690 km) in 36-45 days. Her goal is to bring awareness to the fight against human trafficking in two countries – Mexico and the United States – and to empower victims and survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking across the world.
A dual citizen of Mexico and Canada, Bastidas (www.normabastidas.com ) will begin her quest in Cancun, Mexico on March 1, 2014, where she plans on swimming 95 miles (152 km), averaging 8-10 miles per day. She’ll then bike 2,740 miles (4,409 km), averaging 300-500 miles per day. Hoping to cross the border into the United States at Laredo between March 18-20, she will continue biking across Texas, through San Antonio to Houston and on to New Orleans, Louisiana. When she reaches Montgomery, Alabama, she’ll switch to running and head for Washington, DC, 690 miles (1,110 km) away, attempting to average between 30-50 miles daily.
The current ultra-triathlon record listed by Guinness World Records is by David Holleran of Australia, who completed a triathlon of 26 mile (42 km) swim, 1242 mile (2,000 km) cycle and 310 mile (500 km) run (total 1,579 miles) in 17 days, 22 hrs, 50 mins., in 1998.
A documentary team from iEmpathize, a non-profit organization (www.iempathize.org ) whose mission is to combat modern slavery and child exploitation, will accompany Bastidas to capture her event on film. While Bastidas was kidnapped and almost trafficked herself, the resulting film iEmpathize will release in either late 2014 or early 2015, titled Be Relentless (www.BeRelentless.iEpathize.org ) will
feature not only her story, but the stories of human trafficking victims and their advocates in both the
United States and Mexico. These stories include a jungle raid and rescue in Chiapas, Mexico, the USC
law school’s successful liberation of a Mexican trafficking survivor who was jailed for a murder her trafficker committed in front of her, and the stories of “everyday heroes” fighting one of society’s greatest modern human rights violations. Money raised from the film will benefit prevention projects through development of materials, programs and curriculums for education projects, and empower survivors through scholarship funds.
“Ultras are tough, both physically and emotionally,” commented Bastidas, who was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network and written up in Runner’s World, “but the challenge is only temporary. After I finish an ultra, my life goes back to normal, but survivors have to keep overcoming huge challenges every day of their lives.”
Bastidas understands challenges. Born in Mazatlan, Mexico, the eldest of six children, she helped rear her siblings after her father deserted the family while she was still young. She experienced sexual abuse as a child, sexual violence as an adult and currently lives in Canada with her two sons, one of whom is losing his sight due to a congenital eye disease.
As a stress release, she began running when she was 38 and in a short span of time decided to become an ultramarathoner to raise money for organizations working to fight blindness.
In 2012, after facing the challenge of speaking about the sexual abuse, rape and near trafficking experience she suffered, she set out alone from Vancouver, BC to run to her birthplace in Mexico – a journey she made to empower victims to stand up against the violence they’d undergone and to fight human trafficking. She chronicled her trip in a book titled Running Home.
During that trip, iEmpathize provided Bastidas with support both in Los Angeles and in Tijuana, Mexico. Be Relentless is their first joint project.
“We had just wrapped up a project partnering with Mexico’s Commission to End Human Trafficking, a national campaign focused in their federal district,” explained Brad Riley, iEmpathize founder and president. “And we wanted our next project to be something that would engage multiple sectors in
multiple countries, spread the message to an expanded audience, cause people to focus on the problem – without polarizing them or causing them to turn away — and then consider what their role could be in ending sexual exploitation. Be Relentless is that project, and Norma makes it a reality.”
Riley believes cultural perceptions surrounding the current condition of human trafficking in the United
States are inaccurate or reflect a gross misunderstanding of the rate at which this is occurring in our backyards. The Be Relentless project will work to demystify what a survivor is, how he/she becomes a victim, and then demonstrate that survivors – and virtually everyone everywhere – is capable of doing extraordinary things to make a positive impact in the fight against human trafficking.
“If Norma can more than double the world’s record for the longest triathlon, most people should be able to find a way, albeit small, to transform themselves into ‘everyday heroes’ and agents for positive change,” Riley concluded.
Bastidas believes this ultra-triathlon is a metaphor for life – anything is possible if it’s broken down into small parts. She proclaims, “These victims are heroes, they are survivors, and hopefully people at the end of the documentary will change their perception of what a strong person, or a strong human being, or a strong woman is.”