The Mirnavator Inspires
Madison Girls

By James Edward Mills

On her recent visit to Madison, ultra runner Mirna Valerio wanted to experience a few of our local trails. Despite the newly fallen snow and chilly winter weather in early March, this professional athlete was eager to get in a few training miles. Starting from the parking lot near the entrance to Picnic Point on the University of Wisconsin campus, she jogged with passion and excitement to the end of the trail to take in the sweeping view of Lake Mendota and the Capitol Building in the distance. Completing a circuit of almost three miles through the Eagle Heights Community Garden and along the Capital City Bike Path, Valerio ran gracefully over slippery patches of snow and ice. Arriving back where her run began she said with a smile, “Do you think we can take another lap?”

Runners in Madison are quite common. With so many miles of city streets, bike paths and trails to enjoy, it’s easy to see why so many people love taking regular jogs for health and wellness as part of a balanced lifestyle. But too often we allow ourselves to assume that in order to be runner we must first have a particular body type or physique that reflects our cultural understanding of what it means to be an athlete. As a plus-sized African-American woman Mirna Valerio defies the misbelief that runners have to be thin with well-developed muscles. Known across the country as “the Mirnavator”, she models the belief that everyone should just become the athlete they are with the body they have.

“You don’t have to not put so much pressure on yourself to think that you need that perfect body image,” she said. “I know that I’m carrying a lot more happiness than I used to. There’s something to be said for finding a level of contentment that doesn’t compromise your health. It ultimately allows you to have a higher degree of happiness.”

As an ultra runner, Valerio runs races of distances over 26.2 miles or longer than a marathon. Invited to Madison by Girls Inc. and the Goodman Community Center, she came as part of the International Women’s Day Celebration. Before presenting her remarkable story in a keynote address at the Overture Center for the Arts, Valerio meet with a group of middle school children, mostly girls, to coach them in understanding the importance of a positive self-image. She paired-up the students into partners and asked them each to describe themselves in brief affirmative statements.

Free from subjective judgments these affirmations helped the girls to define themselves by things they know to be true. And through a simple statement of fact, they can declare not only who they are, but who they most want to be.

“I am fat,” Valerio told them. “But I am also an athlete. I am a runner. I can do or be anything.”

With the power of language, each of the girls learned to express themselves as a declaration of their intention to be whatever their hearts desire. Without the limitations of doubt and uncertainty, they could envision the prospects their lives as capable young women.

“But why do you call yourself fat?” one student asked Valerio. “I think you’re perfect just the way you are.”