Norma Bastidas is a survivor.
The 47-year-old single mom is a survivor of sexual abuse and violence. When she first spoke out about her abuse, she was ignored, blamed and told to stay quiet, but she continued to speak out.
Now, she has decided to show that persistence and hard work can pay off by seeking to break the Guinness World Record for an ultra-triathlon by completing more than 3,750 miles in 55 to 70 days. Her goal is to bring awareness to the fight against human trafficking in Mexico and the United States, to empower victims and survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking across the world, and to prove that victims can become heroes.
“When I started, people said I was breaking a physical barrier, but if I break this record, then … people see you doing the impossible and realize it’s possible,” Bastidas said Tuesday, as she stopped in LaGrange along her trek. “It’s a metaphor to let people see that anyone can overcome. I am a survivor, and I can overcome.”
A dual citizen of Mexico and Canada, Bastidas began her quest in Cancun, Mexico, on March 1, swimming 122 miles. Bastidas said she only began swimming about a year ago.
She then biked 2,740 miles into the U.S through Texas, going through San Antonio to Houston, and on to New Orleans, La. When she reached LaGrange, she switched to running and began heading for Washington, DC, a 690-mile trek for which she will attempt to average 30 to 50 miles daily.
Bastidas said she hopes to encourage victims of sexual abuse and violence to speak out and overcome their victimization. She said as long as someone puts their heart into something and works incredibly hard, they can accomplish anything.
Victims of sexual abuse and violence are often targeted at a young age, and it happens in all types of communities, Bastidas said. People can help combat it by speaking out if they see indicators in their community, like substance abuse at home. Factors like that previously have held a stigma of being personal problems, but Bastidas encouraged anyone who sees signs of abuse to report it.
She added that children of single, working parents also tend to be more often targeted. She said community help for those families and can come from support from churches and community organizations.
Bastidas also said that anyone who is a victim should speak up and keep speaking up about their abuse until someone listens. She said when she first spoke out about her abuse, she was ignored and even blamed, but she kept speaking out until she received help.
Bastidas also was almost kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring. She said that the United States is not only a source for sex traffickers, but also a destination.
“This is nobody’s choice, if a girl runs away and falls into the lifestyle, she needs a way out,” Bastidas said.
Born in Mazatlan, Mexico, the eldest of six children, Bastidas helped raise her siblings after her father deserted the family while she was still young. She experienced sexual abuse as a child, and sexual violence as an adult. She 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, B.C., 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.”
The current ultra-triathlon record listed by Guinness World Records is by David Holleran of Australia, who completed a triathlon of 26-mile swim, 1,242-mile cycle and 310-mile run for a total 1,579 miles in 17 days, 22 hours and 50 minutes in 1998.
A documentary team from iEmpathize, a non-profit organization with the mission to combat modern slavery and child exploitation, is accompanying Bastidas to capture her event on film. The resulting film iEmpathize will release later this year or in early 2015 will be titled “Be Relentless.” It is planned to feature the story of Bastidas and human trafficking victims and their advocates in both the United States and Mexico.
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.
During her first U.S. marathon, 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,” said Brad Riley, iEmpathize founder and president, in a prepared statement. “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 or she becomes a victim, and then demonstrate that survivors – and virtually everyone everywhere – are 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 said.
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.”
To track Bastidas’ progress, check out http://berelentless.iempathize.org, and for more information check out www.normabastidas.com and www.iempathize.org.