Human trafficking survivor who smashed triathlon world record

Norma Bastidas

What does it sound like inside Norma Bastidas' head?

The 49-year-old mother-of-two is a celebrated ultra-marathoner, known to have trekked 150 miles across the scorched deserts of Namibia or run double-marathons over an icy tundra in Antarctica. On these extreme endurance competitions, often the only sound accompanying the silent lyrics of her thoughts is the percussive beat of rubber soles on dirt trails or ancient ice. 

"I try to be as kind to myself as possible," says Bastidas, of what she thinks about on these unyielding journeys. "Because the world hasn't always been that kind." Any running enthusiast can rattle off the sport's many benefits -- cardiovascular health, stress relief, weight control. But for Bastidas, running is mainly a release, the opportunity to clear her mind of past judgments and negative emotions. "It will drain me if I evoke those feelings all the time," says Bastidas. "Being able to master the emotions comes from the knowledge of Taoism." Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu developed Taoism, which encourages followers to flow with the natural ups and downs of life, roughly around the 5th century BCE. A fitting philosophy, given that Bastidas has experienced higher altitudes and lower depths than just about anyone can imagine.

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