The Definition of an Athlete

Mirna Valerio is an inspiring advocate for inclusion in the running community

The Definition of an Athlete
Photo: lululemon

“This body is fierce, beautiful, and unapologetic. It’s meant to move through the world as it wishes: lifting, walking and running, rolls and all.”

– Mirna Valerio

In that glorious moment when Mirna Valerio completed her first marathon, she didn’t bask in the glory. Instead, as the medal was placed around her neck, her mind raced to repeating the feat.

Valerio, who is grateful her ‘body got this’ every time she runs, had proven to herself she could do it. And she wanted more.

“It was very emotional when I crossed the finish line,” the ultramarathon runner says. “But I was thinking I’ve got to do this again because I want a better time.”

Since that 2011 milestone, the influencer dubbed the Mirnavator has topped that race time and logged a running resume which includes 14 ultras (that’s about 42.2 km a piece), 11 marathons, countless half marathons and eight obstacle course events.

When the sponsored athlete’s writing and speaking engagements hit a stride, she traded her career as a high school teacher for an eclectic life of adventure.

But rather than relinquishing her role as a teacher, the 45-year-old expanded her reach.

“A teacher is essentially role-modelling and showing people ways and tools to do things. That is what I do now,” Valerio says from the Vermont home she shares with her husband and teenage son.

Sadly, nasty naysayers disapprove, weighing in on her size.

She’s too big.

She’s too slow.

She isn’t an athlete.

But she’s become a voice for plus-size athletes and doesn’t deviate from her message that anyone, regardless of body shape or size, can be a runner.

“If you run, you are a runner,” Valerio says. “All this stupid chatter and narratives around athleticism – we just make things up and I try not to listen to that.”

“You can be a runner and do other athletic things in the body you have. You don’t have to change your body to fit any mold.”

Her Fat Girl Running blog celebrates a bigger version of strength and beauty while trashing stereotypes Valerio simply does not live up to.

“I’m not lazy. I’m ambitious and I’m athletic,” she says. “I’m fat, I’m a girl and I run. And you might not be okay with it, but I am okay with it. Sometimes I come in last and other times other people come in last.”

The author of A Beautiful Work in Progress and a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year was chosen as a lululemon ambassador to be “a change-making source of motivation for runners to unlock their fullest potential – regardless of age, ability, race or gender.”

Critics be dammed, Valerio is making huge inroads, one kilometre at a time, to show athletic endeavours are less about body type, more about heart and grit.

Read this story in the digital edition of IMPACT Magazine.

Running 2021 iPad Digital Edition

IMPACT Magazine’s 2021 Running Issue

Looking for running inspiration? Training for a race? We have first-rate training programs designed by some of the best running coaches for your next 10K, Half-Marathon, Marathon and 70.3 distances, plus an epic Road Running Shoe Review to help you get started on the right foot. Plus – our annual RACE SOURCE GUIDE features hundreds of races that you can participate in from virtual to in-person.