Norma Bastidas: "What makes my personal story extraordinary, is my story of survival"


Norma Bastidas, single mother, a survivor of sexual violence and human trafficking and ultra athlete.  In 2014, Norma Bastidas broke the Guinness World Record for Longest Triathlon after swimming, biking and running 3,762 miles (6,054 km) from Cancún, Mexico to Washington, D.C. 

I am invited to this year Women’s Forum Global Meeting as a speaker, Su-Mei Thompson who is the CEO of Honk Kong’s The Women’s Foundation will be conduction the interview and she will be introducing me as “Amazing Woman.” I had to pause for a while when I heard this, after all, I feel pretty ordinary these days.  What makes my personal story extraordinary, is my story of survival. Now, I am an endurance athlete with a long career of expeditions tackling the most dangerous, harsh environments around the world. Until a few years ago this is how most people knew me, as the athlete whose career includes being the fastest female to run an ultramarathon race on all seven continents or breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest triathlon among others.  But those aren't the circumstances where the odds of my survival were heavily stacked against me; I have an even longer history of surviving sexual violence and human trafficking. 

The first time I was raped I was only 11 years old and, like many child assault victims, it was someone trusted with my care. That event sent me into a long journey of violence where no matter what I did I seemed to come full circle. We are accustomed to watching hero movies where the superhero saves the victim and punishes the villain, but in reality, especially in sex violence, victims usually don't receive help because they are judged or blamed for their assaults, and for a long time I believed it was my fault. People often call victims “voiceless” but that is not the truth, as Arundhati Roy quoted, “Victims are deliberately silenced, or preferably unheard” and because of the apathy every time I sought a way out my situation, I ended up on a worse kind of hell.  It's this same indifference that puts millions of people, the grand majority women, and children in danger of becoming part of sex human trafficking.

That was certainly my case when after being victimized for many years by many abusers and having survived a kidnapping in Mexico City, I accepted a job offer to go to Tokyo, Japan at age 19 convinced that it was my home country that was the problem. That job turned out to be working at a nightclub as a bar girl then to being forced into becoming the escort of a prominent club member, a mafia boss, just because they had taken my passport and I had to pay the debt I had incurred when the brought me to Japan from Mexico. The lowest point in my life came after a night out with my friends, a few years after I had left the club. I woke up in a pool of my blood and a man on top of me in an unfamiliar place, a reminder that I might have settled the debt but I still was somebody's property. It was the lowest point not because it had been the worse abuse I had ever suffered but because I was exhausted from trying to find a way out just to find myself in the same situation. I couldn’t find a single one of my friends to help me get home upon being discharged from the emergency room, as they told me, were growing tired of "my drama." Often people ask me if I have wanted to quit during a race and I understand why they ask me, in the end, I almost tripled the previous record of the world longest triathlon, but it didn’t cross my mind not once. When you have been where I have been, is easier to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what sometimes takes to achieve greatness, suffering is the kind of pain that you can't escape, it stays with you no matter what you try to do. That day in Tokyo, alone in that train ride home in a far away city, hurting so much but not being able to cry because crying is an emotion and I didn't want to feel any more, that is, what wanting to quit looks like. There is no a lot of “drama” in my life anymore, just excitement, I guess you could say that there is a hero in this story. This hero is the system and people that gave me the opportunity to get myself out of vulnerable situations without taking my dignity away, as this was the case after I immigrated to Canada when I suddenly became a single parent of a child with a disability. In Canada I found the help to overcome my circumstances successfully so my son and I could get back on our feet. 

So, the difference between my life then, a life where I only knew violence, and now, where I only see opportunities, lies not in making better decisions, but in being given better opportunities. So yes, I am an amazing woman then, we are all capable of greatness, as is not the circumstances that determine if we stand a chance of succeeding, is the ability to keep hope alive, even when the journey seems unbearably long, like a lonely train ride in a strange city.


Meet Norma Bastidas at the 2016 Women’s Forum Global Meeting – Thursday 01 Dec. at 16:05

Norma Bastidas is a single mother,  a survivor of sexual violence and human trafficking and ultra athlete.  In 2014, Norma Bastidas broke the Guinness World Record for Longest Triathlon after swimming, biking and running 3,762 miles (6,054 km) from Cancún, Mexico to Washington, D.C. She views this incredible athletic feat as a metaphor for the incredible trials faced every day by the survivors of human trafficking and sexual violence.  Norma’s mission is to educate and empower, demonstrating to the world that one’s past does not dictate one’s future, and prove that everyday people are capable of making extraordinary strides in the fight against the problems facing the world today.