In November last year, Nepal’s Mira Rai, a former Maoist ‘child soldier’ was nominated by National Geographic for its prestigious ‘Adventurer of the Year’ Award. Rai, who started her trail running career only in December 2014, has come a long way to becoming one of the most successful female Nepali athletes. Her inspiring story has also been told in a recent movie, screened at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival recently.
According to Trail Running Nepal, a website dedicated to promoting trail running in Nepal, in the 22 races, both national and international, she’s participated in, she’s finished outside the fourth place in just one race.
Here we look at three key events that have shaped her trail running career so far:
Expulsion from Maoist army
At the age of 14, Mira Rai left her family to join the Maoist army. She was among the 4,000 ‘soldiers’ disqualified from joining the national army after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between Nepal’s government and the then insurgent Maoist party. After being ‘disqualified’, Rai returned home to Sanodumma, Bhojpur in the eastern hills of Nepal.
Following her expulsion from the Maoist Army, Rai decided to try her luck in sports, and came to Kathmandu. She started with kabaddi, a sport she played for some time. In Kathmandu, she trained under coach Dhurba Bikram Malla at a training centre in Balaju, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, alongside Bimala Tamang, who won bronze at the 2014 Asian Games in Korea.
Meeting with the ‘ultra runners’
Just ahead of the 2014 Himalayan Outdoor Festival in March that year, Rai met Krishna and Bhim Gurung, two men who introduced themselves to her as ‘trail runners’. They told her they were looking for female athletes to run the 50km course in Shivapuri. They asked her if she was interested, she decided to join in. She not only won the race, but also caught the eye of Richard Bull, who has been promoting trail running in Nepal. The month after that, she participated in the Mustang Trail Race. Impressed by her abilities, Italian runner Tite Togni suggested that she train in Europe.
She says she was thinking of returning home the day she met the Gurungs. She had spent time in Kathmandu, and was out of money to continue in the city.
Mira Rai, who spent her childhood running up and down the hills of eastern Nepal, now does so in races around the world. NatGeo, in its description of Rai says, “Today the running world recognizes her as a high-elevation trail racing phenom.”