Norma Bastidas Survives Human Trafficking to Make History and Break Guinness World Record
Norma Bastidas was 19-years-old when she was offered a modeling job in Japan, a gig that would undoubtedly change the course of her life, but not for the reason she had hoped.
Bastidas was born in Mazatlan, Mexico, where she spent years of her life struggling to keep her family together after her father's death when she was 11.
Raised by a single mother with five siblings, she was forced to create her own means of survival.
"We all worked, there was no safety net for us," Bastidas told CNN.
After being raped by her grandfather amid years of fighting to survive, she was determined to move on to a better life. So, when the opportunity came to move to Japan, she took it knowing it could be her only chance.
There, she quickly realized a modeling career was not in her future. Instead, she was forced into human trafficking.
After an unsuccessful and violent attempt to confront the police, members of a convent helped Bastidas escape to Canada where she later met her husband.
CNN reports that Bastidas found herself turning to alcohol to numb the pain and shame of her past, leading to the end of her marriage and the discovery that her oldest son, Karl, had Cone Rod Dystrophy, an incurable condition that causes impaired vision.
"I knew I was putting my kids at risk not being present. And I needed to be present to find a solution," she told CNN. "So I started running at night. Because I didn't want them to hear me crying."
Today, Bastidas is "the second person in history [and the fastest female in history] to run seven of the planet's most unforgiving environments on seven separate continents and the first to do it in seven months," shattering triathlon records along the way.
Check out her Q&A with MAKERS below to learn about how she overcame adversity, chose to take control of her life, break triathlon records, and eventually became an advocate for anti-bullying, women's issues, and human trafficking awareness.
Q. Your story of overcoming life's obstacles is truly inspiring. How do you keep yourself going in the face of adversity?
A. I have to keep focusing on the reason why I want to overcome these obstacles, what it means. The more specific the easier it is, for example, the decision to raise awareness about my son's condition and break a world record on his behalf was because his teacher kept forgetting to do the accommodations he needed, she felt it was "unfair" to her because she had more work. My son is now at the most prestigious visual arts school in Canada and that is what I focus on when I am attempting something difficult, the reasons why I started.
Q. At what point did you decide you were going to leverage your voice to be an advocate for those who have been bullied, abused, and/or victims of human trafficking?
A. My son is now 22 years old, I started advocating for him when he was only 11, as he grew he started to advocate for himself, so I had to step to the side and let him do it. I had built a platform as an activist by then so I decided to utilize it to raise awareness about sexual violence and human trafficking because of my personal history. My intention was to speak about it at a couple of events only, but I realized we desperately needed to have this conversation.
Q. How have your children, particularly your son Karl, inspired you to dream big?
A. My kids are my inspiration and biggest supporters. Speaking out about sexual violence is extremely hard, both because of my personal history and because there is still a tendency to victim blame, but my children have always stood by me and reminded me that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Karl in particular has inspired me because I see him deal with his disability with so much grace. He has difficult days, especially because he chose a profession that is difficult for a person with a visual impairment, but I have never heard him complain and he gives nothing but his best at all times.
Q. In 2009, you became a history maker as the fastest female to run seven of the planet's most unforgiving environments on seven separate continents in seven months. How did that feel?
A. It felt really weird to become a public figure. I had chosen for so long to live my life privately. I never felt like a role model and then everybody was calling me one, I just did what I felt my son needed and deserved. I didn’t take it for granted though, ever since I have focus on learning and growing as a person to be the best advocate.
Q. You have, quite literally, gone to the end of the world and back for your children. What do you hope they take from your perseverance?
A. With children you have to lead by example. It will not matter if I tell my kids that life gets better and that they matter in the world if I don’t show it with my actions. I am raising my children with my actions and intentions so that when I tell them something they believe me.
Q. When you were a young girl, how did you picture your future? Did you ever imagine you'd make history?
A. I never thought my life was going to be as large as it is now. When I was a kid we hardly had anything. My only dream growing up was to attend university, something that was not available to me because we didn’t have money and families in Mexico did not prioritize education for women. Today I am still pursuing that dream.
Q. Aside from your two boys, you also champion, inspire, and empower women worldwide. What's the most important thing you hope to share that you weren't told as a child?
A. Don't focus on what your talents are, just follow your passion. As a kid I was never encouraged to run because I never excelled at it. I grew up believing that and it was not until I was 41 that I went on to break a world record in running. Never underestimate the power of perseverance.
Q. If you were to write a memoir, what would you title it?
A. I would title my memoir "Lucky."
Be sure to check out her documentary, "Be Relentless," which follows her triathlon journey, 3,762 miles from Cancun, Mexico to Washington, D.C., in 64 days.
Photo Credit: Hans Christie/iEmpathize