Former Child Soldier Swaps Fighting For Fitness And Now Runs Races To Inspire Other Girls

Mira-Rai

We started this website with the idea to share stories about inspirational women doing amazing things for people in their communities, breaking barriers and changing the world. While we knew there were so many incredible stories out there about women which weren’t getting enough media attention, we are consistently blown away each time we read about the difficult circumstances some of these women overcame to get where they are today.

One of those women is Mira Rai, a Nepalese mountain runner and former child soldier. She not only has a remarkable story, but also has a very powerful reason for wanting to encourage other girls to live their life to the max.

Mira grew up in poverty under her parents who were laborers, and didn’t get to attend school consistently. By the age of ten she started working to earn what little money she could to help her family. At that time, in the mid-1990s, the country was in the middle of a war which forced many families into deeper poverty and put the country into strife politically.

This war raged from 1995 all the way to 2006, where Maoist Guerillas tried to overthrow the incompetent government and the corrupt monarchy that ruled in order to establish a new system in the country. It didn’t go so well, but the battle ended with a truce. The United Nations estimates over 13,000 people were killed during the political instability, and 1300 went missing.

It was during her teens that Mira was introduced to the Maoist Guerillas who came to her town to recruit people.

Mira-Rai-child-soldier

“I was inspired by their message of making a better society here, especially for women, and by the adventure too. Other girls were confined to their homes and I thought if I go then the others will follow,” she told the Guardian.

She became a fighter after undergoing training in a forest camp for two years, where she learned how to use certain weapons and about the Maoists’ ideologies. What she liked most about being involved with them was getting to do martial arts and running. When the war came to an end, many of the Guerillas were integrated into the new army being formed, but because of her age, Mira was classified as a child soldier by the United Nations.

Strangely, she felt rejected, but was able to return home and study and continue running. Since finding what she loved, Mira has not stopped running and the transition from fighting to focusing on fitness and running has given her a new mission in life. This mission is to encourage other girls to transcend the oppressive conservatism that still presides over the women in the country, and help them to pursue their dreams.

“There has been some progress, but not enough. I want women and girls in remote villages like mine to have opportunities. We need to change attitudes. It will not be easy,” said the now-23 year old.

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Last year she started getting noticed for her running, as she was the only woman to enter a 50km race over hills up to 2,600m near Kathmandu. These particular types of races are not for the faint of heart, and attract runners from all over the world to the Himalayan mountains. Since then she has figuratively and literally conquered mountains all over the world and become a legit international mountain runner.

Mira has competed in major races in Italy, Hong Kong, across Nepal, New Zealand and France, where she won an 80km race. The Guardian reports her most recent race was in Spain where she came second, earning €1,000, which is reportedly double the average annual income in Nepal.

Because of the money she is winning, her parents don’t have to work tough jobs and her siblings can go to school. Mira has a small sponsorship with a French athletic brand but because it is tough for any athlete, man or woman, to get financial backing in one of the poorest countries in the world, an organization called Trail Running Nepal started a crowd-funding page where anyone can donate and help Mira compete in the races around the world.

And if you are intrigued about Mira’s story and want to see more, there is a documentary being released about her life by sport documentary filmmaker Lloyd Belcher, who captured her story which was set against the backdrop of incredible struggle yet managed to break barriers and inspire many along the way.

Mira-Rai-Film-Poster

“Mira’s story is inspirational and can reach the young people of Nepal, especially girls in a patriarchal society to realize their potential whether that be in sports or elsewhere. Nepal is in need of female role models that will inspire other young girls and women. Mira and her story is nothing short of inspirational. This film has a clear objective of reaching the people of Nepal with Mira’s story,” says a description about the documentary.

The ‘Mira Rai’ film will be available to buy on demand December 7th, 2015, and the best part about it is that proceeds from sales will go toward covering all filmmaking costs so that it can be screened in front of as many girls around Nepal as possible. They are working with various NGOs and UNICEF in Nepal in order to make this happen.

The screenings shown around Nepal, including remote villages, will all be free and be presented in DVD format as part of a pack of race supplies used to organize mountain races that will encourage young women to start their own races in their communities.

For Mira, her motivation is not to make money, but to set herself apart as a female role models for girls in her country, showing them what is possible.

Mira-Rai-running

“It’s most important to inspire people, but to inspire people, you need to win. If I run lots of races, I get to travel and have fun, but I have to win to inspire people,” she told Outside magazine earlier this year in an interview.

She also mentioned that it’s not just girls that are inspired by her efforts but also boys, but it is more significant that girls see her as a person who can achieve great things despite her gender.

“Girls don’t have opportunities. Girls in Nepal are told to stay home, fetch the wood, look after the animals and the cooking. The ‘big things’ are for men. Changing mentality is difficult. People have a habit of ignoring the truth—they know that’s not true, but still believe it. My parents were live-and-let-live which gave me opportunities,” she said.

Girls may not have as many opportunities as men in Nepal, but now they have Mira Rai showing them what opportunity and possibility looks like. What an inspirational woman! Take a look at the ‘Mira Rai’ documentary trailer below:

Mira from Lloyd Belcher Visuals on Vimeo.

 

 

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