On June 23, Vancouverite Norma Bastidas will be running a half marathon in a wedding dress. Specifically, she’s leading WAVAW’s (Women Against Violence Against Women) team in the Scotiabank Half Marathon to raise awareness of violence against women in intimate relationships, an issue that has a personal meaning for her.
Norma first started running for stress release about seven years ago when her oldest child was diagnosed with Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a disease that was causing him to lose his sight. A close friend was training to run the Boston Marathon and Norma started training with her.
“Within six months I ran my first half marathon. Eight months later I ran my first marathon and qualified for Boston,” she told me.
“There were things in my life I couldn’t control, but I could control training,” she added.
For her first runs she reached out to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and asked if she could help support them through her running and tying that to the story of what she and her son were going through. She said that work for her is about challenging complacency and showing it’s possible to make a difference:
“Things can change; you just need to work harder.”
The response to her telling her story was overwhelming and positive, but it made Norma realize there was another piece of her experience she hadn’t talked publicly about: her experience as a child victim of family violence and sexual assault. She found it incredibly difficult to acknowledge that past and deal with her feelings of shame even though she knew it wasn’t her fault.
“I was questioning, did I do everything I could to protect myself?” she said. But ultimately she decided she had to help other victims by breaking the silence:
“I used to be dealing with nightmares but now I’m tackling dreams. I want people to know you can go through this and survive and thrive.”
Among the dreams she’s taken on, in 2009 Norma became the fastest woman in history to run seven of the planet’s most unforgiving environments on seven continents in seven months.
In late 2012 Norma made a monumental and symbolic journey to get out her message about ending violence. Over 80 days, Norma ran an ultra-marathon spanning 2,600 miles from Vancouver to her birthplace of Mazatlan. She told the Vancouver Sun:
When I began my journey to Mazatlan, I found that many people assumed that I was running against violence in Mexico – a place that for them has become a symbol of violence. Being Mexican and still very close to my heritage and country, I am saddened by the violence Mexico is facing, but I am also saddened that this violence defines my country to many people. Mexico, too, is much more than the injustices it has suffered.
What’s important to remember is that despite the safety and security issues in some parts of Mexico, violence is a global epidemic. It does not belong to or affect just one gender, one race or one country. Violence does not discriminate.
Running the half-marathon with WAVAW is a natural fit with Norma’s ongoing anti-violence activism. The message she hopes to send by running in a wedding dress is “to signify it’s okay to be in a relationship but only if the person treats you the way you should be treated. No respect, no relationship.”
At this point she knows she could walk away from activism, find another job and challenge herself less, but she says: “just because I have a way out doesn’t mean I should take it.” She knows what she went through is what other women and girls are living with every day.
“I either watch it happen or do something about it,” she told me, “We’re all in this together.”