Human trafficking survivor smashes world triathlon record

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Human trafficking survivor smashed triathlon world record (KTRK)

The fact that Norma Bastidas broke the record for the world's longest triathlon is impressive on its own. However, her success becomes all the more awe-inspiring when you learn about the unlikely path the 49-year-old traveled to accomplish the feat.

"I have been an endurance athlete and breaking records," said Bastidas. "But there was a part of me that not a lot of people knew - that I was a survivor of sexual violence and human trafficking."

Born to a desperately poor family in Mexico, Bastidas' told CNN her father died when she was 11-years-old.

"Things went bad really really fast. My mom was a single parent with five kids," said Bastidas.

Rather than help a struggling family, Bastidas says some family members took advantage of her vulnerability.

"My uncle who was blind, and I was caring for, actually raped me," said Bastidas.

Several years later, a local woman noticed Bastidas, by then a pretty 19 year old, and offered her a modeling job in Japan.

"I remember my mom saying 'I'm afraid, but I can't stop you,'" said Bastidas. "Because this is the only chance (for a better life). And we desperately wanted it to be true."

It wasn't. Bastidas says once she arrived in Japan the agency took her passport and set her up in an apartment. They then informed her she owed them for airfare, the apartment, and food. Bastidas said the agency delivered her to a member's club in Tokyo and told her she must re-pay all of the money it took to bring her to Japan.

"So all of a sudden you have a horrendous amount of debt," said Bastidas. "The apartment I thought they were giving me was not for free, the food, money to send home."

Unable to speak Japanese, Bastidas was effectively trapped.

"On my way home from the club and I was drugged, beaten. I remember fighting hard and he beat me up. And he threw me on the corner and I remember fighting and going straight to the police. And nobody wanted to help me. Because I had been a bar girl. I had no value," said Bastidas.

After several years, Bastidas finally managed to escape her traffickers through help from a nearby convent. She later married, had two children and relocated to Vancouver, Canada. But the marriage didn't last and Bastidas had trouble making ends meet.

"Here I am, vulnerable, a single parent, immigrant, I just lost my job. My oldest son who is 11 was diagnosed with a condition called Conrad Dystrophy and he started going blind. And the first person to ever rape me when I was a child was a blind relative. It was too much for me," said Bastidas.

But Bastidas says instead of handling the situation like she always had, with alcohol, she decided to break the cycle.

"So I started running at night. Because I didn't want them to hear me crying."

Within six months of putting on her first pair of running shoes, Bastidas qualified for one of the world's most high-profile races -- the Boston Marathon and she didn't stop there. Soon after, Bastidas ran from Vancouver, Canada through the United States to her childhood home outside of Mazatlan, Mexico - a distance of 2,500 miles.

"I just became an incredible runner because of the incredible amount of stress that I had to manage," said Bastidas.

Then she had her big idea - she would break the world record for the longest triathlon in history and she would do it to send a message.

"I designed a triathalon to follow human trafficking smuggling routes," said Bastidas.

Brad Riley, who runs the anti-trafficking group, iEmpathize soon joined Bastidas team.

"When I heard the personal challenges she's overcome, I was an immediate Superfan," said Riley.

Over the course of 65 days in 2014, Bastidas ran, biked, and swam from Cancun, Mexico, to Washington DC.

iEmpathize filmed the entire trip, which is the subject of a feature-length documentary called "Be Relentless."

An Indiegogo campaign is now hoping to raise a total $50,000 to complete the project.

"Human trafficking is what happened to you. It's not who you are," said Bastidas.
Related Topics:
societyHuman Traffickinghuman rightssexual assaultabusemexico

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