The story of Norma Bastidas is one of triumph over tragedy. She is a woman whose resilience has allowed her to overcome the unthinkable misfortunes life has thrown her way. Bastidas, 49, set the world triathlon record in 2014 covering an incredible 3,762 miles. Her epic journey began in Cancun, Mexico, and ended in Washington, D.C., and took her 64 days to complete. “That was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever done,” she told CNN in an interview. Her story is getting wide attention now because of the release of a documentary that chronicles her remarkable feat.
Sadly, pain had been an all-too recurring theme in Bastidas’ life. She was born into a poor family in Mexico. At age 11, her father died. Her mother was left alone to raise five children, and that’s when a sinister relative took advantage of the situation. An uncle whom she helped care for because he was blind raped her. At age 19, she was offered a modeling job in Tokyo. Despite her mother’s trepidations about her teenage daughter moving halfway around the world, Bastidas saw it as a ticket out of a life of struggle and poverty. When she arrived in Tokyo, Bastidas realized she’d been tricked, and was sold to the highest bidder and forced into a life of sex slavery. Bastidas said she was drugged and raped, and even though she sought help from authorities, because she had no passport and was deemed a prostitute, no one came to her aid.
Eventually, Bastidas escaped and moved to Canada where she pursued a normal family life. She married and had children, but her life as a sex slave always haunted her. She had developed a drinking problem as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress she felt from carrying the horrible memories of having been trafficked and exploited. Eventually she realized she was headed down a dark and likely fatal path. In order to turn her life around, she began running and adopted a Taoist philosophy. She immediately flourished as a runner. Not long after taking up running, Bastidas qualified for the Boston Marathon, and eventually became an ultra marathon runner. Then, inspiration struck. She had a big idea to set the world record for completing the longest triathlon — and to send a message in the process. She mapped out a course — that began in Cancun and ended in Washington — that is a known trafficking route used by human smugglers to help call attention to the plight of trafficking victims.
As she neared the finish of her grueling journey, she was joined by fellow human trafficking survivors who finished the last two miles with her. Bastidas recalled that it was a moving experience, one that was empowering for everyone.
“By living large, I’m empowering every single victim,” she said. “Somebody who was once living in a nightmare is now living out her dreams. Because that’s what a world record is — it’s a dream.”
Running has carried Bastidas, but so has the Taoist philosophy to which she subscribes, and one of Taoism’s central proverbs neatly sums up her life: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”