Create a pool of international-level women athletes
Three ways to realize the vision:
1) Ensure government and corporate funding for every trail running event and trail runner in Nepal
2) Create general awareness of trail running sports and lobby the government to recognize trail running as a formal sport
3) Motivate youths especially women and fill them with passion through better provisions to pursue sports
I was born and brought up in a remote village in Bhojpur district. I don’t exactly remember but unknowingly running—scampering around my village, climbing trees and cliffs to gather fodder for cattle—had become a part of my life.
Born into a rural family dependent on subsistence agriculture, life was tough. I learned to work hard early on, and continue to push myself mentally and physically to this day.
I am keen to share the story of my struggle with my juniors and students, especially girls. Even with limited government support, I am doing what I can to build a solid platform for sports in Nepal. I am especially keen on developing ultra-trail running, my forte. My hope is that other athletes will be similarly inspired to work for the development of their own sports. Perhaps, in due course, I can help with the development of other sports as well.
We can’t expect much from our government. Yet we can certainly lobby and work with government representatives to establish a better sporting culture in the country. Our beautiful country that is filled with hills and mountains is also blessed with a favorable climate for trail running. If only we could better manage our trails, Nepali trail runners could perform much better in international competitions.
Besides, I believe the corporate sector should also collaborate with and sponsor athletes. The field of sports is one of the most resource-intensive and players can never give the desired performance without the right investment. Proper gear, diet, and other facilities are a must to succeed.
In most countries, what I see is both the corporate and the governmental sectors facilitate players. I know we are a poor country and there are many constraints, but we must at least try to emulate them.
Right motivation is also important. Many Nepali athletes struggle to keep themselves motivated when they have to struggle just to put food on their table. I have myself been through a similar situation. When I was a child, I had to drop out of school and I used to carry rice on my back to earn my livelihood. It was an obstacle-filled road for me the whole way.
It was during the final years of the Maoist insurgency that I joined the rebel force. I was 14 at the time. I was determined to progress in life and support my family. Sports became a part of my life when I started taking part in various sporting activities the local Maoist groups organized. We used to play various sports. My journey started with karate, then I moved to football, volleyball, and then running.
After the peace agreement between the government and the Maoists, I was labeled an ‘ineligible combatant’ and dismissed with Rs 10,000 in compensation. They said I was under-age. After that, I tried many things but was unsuccessful each time. I would probably have flown to Malaysia for foreign employment if not for my former karate teacher who motivated me to pursue running and to realize my potential. So, the point is, every athlete needs the right motivation and a certain pathway to success.
Mira Rai carrying Nepali flag and running towards the finish line at Mont Blanc Marathon 80km, Skyrunner World Series, France in 2015 | Salomon
As I always say, people should grab the opportunity when it comes knocking at their door. But many young talents across Nepal don’t know about sports and related opportunities. For this reason, in 2017, I started the Mira Rai Initiative to empower Nepali trail runners, especially females, and promote trail running as a mainstream adventure sport in the country.
After I got a bit of recognition, I thought, why not use this fame for a good cause. I wanted to establish a non-governmental non-profit, and soon I started receiving donations from individuals and organizations. With the small amount of donation, I began by supporting three athletes with their diet, gears and resources, and training, enabling them to participate in international competitions.
The Mira Rai Initiative is now working with the Hong Kong Trail Running group to run an ‘Exchange and Empower’ program. The program gives a nine-month scholarship to young talented and passionate female trail runners from disadvantaged and marginalized backgrounds to pursue trail running sports and send them to international competitions. This program also provides them with a trekking guide license, as a sport career will not sustain them economically and support their livelihood. The overall goal is to empower these young women to become independent and pursue their dreams. Under this initiative, 10 female runners have successfully graduated and six have become national-level professional athletes. We ensure that all the runners we take have the wherewithal to follow their passion.
This year, we have collaborated with Shakti Samuha, from where we include one athlete who is a trafficked survivor. In the coming days, we want to be more inclusive focusing on LBTI from the queer community, but there is a long way ahead for this as there needs to be formal recognition of queer community in the sports arena itself. We want to remove the stigma queers and victims of human trafficking face, which, hopefully, will also help with their social rehabilitation.
I have a vision for Nepal. The Mira Rai Initiative aims to create many more international-level women athletes within the next decade. This comes with making people aware about what trail running is, as many do not even know this sport. I wish people from all sectors join hands to provide a beautiful platform for all those talented women who would otherwise be locked inside their homes all their productive years.
Any specific reason you joined the Maoist insurgency?
I always wanted to leave my village and travel in search of new opportunities. The Maoists convinced me that they would open the doors for such opportunities. That was all that I wanted.
What was your first competitive running event?
It was the Himalayan Outdoor Festival, 2014. As part of the race, I ran 3,000 m without proper gear and shoes. Rain and hailstorm hit and 50 kilometers later, I was the only woman to complete the course.
How much have you run in competitive races to date?
It’s exactly 1,769 km.