Mirna Valerio is a self-titled fat girl who loves to run. She may not be what you would traditionally see on the cover of athletic magazines — at least not yet — but her accomplishments are impressive. So far, Valerio has completed several marathons, ultra-marathons, and long-distance runs. Her toughest race to date? The Javelina Jundred 100k in Fountain Hills, Arizona. In a nutshell: She’s extremely badass and determined to debunk stereotypes of what it means to be a runner and by extension an athlete. “It’s really interesting to me that people feel that in order to be fit, they have to be thin. I’m so glad that I can be out there in my size 18, 20 doing my thing,” she told Vivala.
The Afro-Latina — her mother is African-American and father is from Honduras — chronicles her journey on the popular blog Fat Girl Running, in which she shares her personal experiences, tips, and triumphs as a “fathlete,” a term she uses with pride. Valerio is part of a growing community of people aiming to make “fat” part of the norm.
"I didn’t grow up in a family where there were any sort of body image issues. There was no pressure ever to be thin in my family."
The Brooklyn-bred Spanish teacher (now a resident of Georgia) began running in high school as a way to improve her performance in field hockey and lacrosse. She continued running on and off through college, but eventually stopped altogether. Fast-forward to 2008, and Valerio was at a crossroad in her life. She was overeating and had abandoned her fitness regime. Soon she began gaining large amounts of weight.
One day she was driving with her son and thought she
was having a heart attack (doctors later told her she had suffered a panic
attack). Her follow-up with a cardiologist would prove life- altering. As Valerio tells it, the doctor said, "'If you want to live to see your son grow up,
you’re going to need to change.' It was as simple as that. I was like, ‘Okay, I
got it.' That was the catalyst that got me back on the wagon. And I
have not stopped since.”
Long distance running has become Valerio's calling, and today she shares that passion with others. Though she’s been running for about 25 years, her favorite hobby just recently became the center of an unexpected media frenzy. The Wall Street Journal featured Valerio’s blog in an article in February 2015, and others soon took notice. Since then, Valerio has made the rounds, with features on NBC, BuzzFeed, and Runner’s World, among several others.
Now people stop her on the streets to take selfies, and her
social media following reaches thousands on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
“It’s been a very surreal 11 months. When I started the blog it was just for me to share my experiences of running. I’ve always been a writer, so this was another way for me to write,” she said. “It became about running and about me being a fat girl running.”
The recognition comes as plus-size women are becoming a growing part of mainstream culture — on the runway, on movie screens and on magazine covers — in what’s being recognized as a movement of empowerment. Plus-size model Erica Jean Schenk made history when she graced the August cover of Women’s Running.
For Valerio, the attention has been overwhelming at times, but worthwhile. “It’s been really cool. I’m really honored that people find the stuff that I do either inspiring or encouraging or motivating,” she said.
But what’s still lacking in the industry? Making “fat” normal, and diversifying the definition of what it means to be a runner, according to Valerio.
"I think the change also has to happen in the media, as far as people seeing ads for clothing that don’t necessarily feature a perfectly chiseled, white runner. That is very important to me, that we see all kinds of humans represented as runners."
“We need to not be shocked when we see these things," Valerio concludes. "There are super thin people out there, but they’ve had their time. It’s our time.”