The Nepali “Cheli”, the adventure trail runner – Mira Rai, is a phenomenon in herself. A Nepali girl who hails from the mountainous village of Bhojpur, from a basic family that made its living rearing livestock, Mira Rai has been called “the high elevation racing phenom” by National Geographic. She is, in essence, a national hero, only low-profile.
Mira Rai spent her childhood chasing after goats, collecting firewood, carrying sacks of rice over 40 pounds, and toiling up and down the mountains to fetch water. She left school at an early age, helping her mother with the household chores. As young as 10, she was working as a porter, carrying heavy sacks of rice up hills for a few rupees and at the age of 14 she left home to join the Maoists.
Generally there are no opportunities. None. Access to education is limited for girls. Women don’t have that much time to study,” says Rai.
Mira Rai spent two years undergoing weapons training and ideological instruction in the jungle with the Maoists. She returned home eventually but was too restless to stay. So she went to Kathmandu with her Karate Guru from the camp to look for opportunities.
Correspondingly, an opportunity did come. Just as all hope was lost and she was on the verge of returning to her village, she met someone in her regular morning run. She learned about a long running race in the local hills. She participated, although unlike other participants she didn’t even have food or water, let alone advanced athletic gear. But this girl, the only female participant in the race, completed it. She had to fight hailstones and rain that muddied the 31-mile trail, but she completed it.
Richard Bull, the British co-founder of Kathmandu-based Trail Running Nepal, an organization that stages races and supports Nepali runners, supported her and helped Rai to obtain lodging, food, visas, and opportunities to race. She went on to win Nepal’s 200km Mustang Mountain Trail Race. Then Bull planned to send her to compete in Europe.
Coming from a country where the women hardly did any sports, Mira Rai rose above all expectations. In 2015, she entered the 82km Mont Blanc Skyrunner World Series. One of the toughest races in the world, and she strolled across it, crossing the finish line 21 minutes ahead of the runner-up. This bestowed on her one of the most prestigious prizes in trail-running: Second Place in the Skyrunning World Championships.
In 2016, Mira Rai wanted to continue racing. Unfortunately, a ruptured ACL forced her to undergo surgery. So, she decided to encourage the others to run. She managed to secure 90 pairs of running shoes for children who didn’t have any and raised money through generous donors in the running community, a pasta sale at a race in Italy, and screenings of a movie about her journey, Mira, which was a finalist in the Banff Mountain Film Festival this year. And organized the first ever running race in her home village.
She has been able to send her younger siblings to school. Also, her parents are now free from worrying about living hand to mouth. Rai has essentially broken barriers that were previously untouched.
The opportunities for sportspersons in Nepal is way too less. Even lesser when it’s a woman. Amidst all the adversities, Mira Rai has secured herself a spot in the International Skyrunning arena.
Rai hopes to bring a change to the Nepali conservatism and cultural mindset where girls have their paths decided for them, the moment they are born.
Mira Rai has now been nominated as an honoree in the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. A 12-year old initiative by National Geographic to find adventurers selected for his or her extraordinary achievement in exploration, adventure sports, conservation, or humanitarianism.
Mira Rai has been featured by many popular national and international publishers like The Guardian, BBC, Hindustan Times, Nepali Times, and My Republica along with many others. You can also visit her Facebook Page and take a look at her profile in the Trail Running Nepal.
You can read more about Mira Rai’s story and vote for her here. It is a People’s Choice Award, so make sure you cast your votes every day. The results will be announced in January 2017.
Let’s help her win!
Featured Image Credit: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventurers-of-the-year/