MOUN­TAIN WAR­RIOR

India Today - - LEISURE - —Arun Bud­hathoki

Aformer child soldier for the Maoists, 29-year-old Mira Rai was con­vinced she had no fu­ture when the Nepal army re­jected her dur­ing the post-war in­te­gra­tion of rebel troops. That’s when she dis­cov­ered trail run­ning. Now she’s a house­hold name in her home­land, and world fa­mous among run­ning afi­ciona­dos. “I joined the Maoist army at 14,” says Rai, who won Na­tional Geo­graphic’s 2017 Ad­ven­turer of the Year Peo­ple’s Choice award. “To make it to the top with­out proper coach­ing and sup­port is amaz­ing!”

In 2014, Rai had left her home in Bho­jpur for Kath­mandu. She was train­ing for com­pet­i­tive karate when some run­ners

she met while out hik­ing con­vinced her to en­ter the Hi­malayan Out­door Fes­ti­val Ul­tra—a 50 kilo­me­tre race in the West Kath­mandu Val­ley. De­spite hav­ing no train­ing, and wear­ing a pair of cheap sneak­ers, she won. “There is not much sup­port for sportswomen in Nepal. But I was lucky to meet peo­ple who thought I was a strong run­ner and helped me find op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she says. Rai also won the 200 km Mus­tang Trail Race later that year and racked up a slew of vic­to­ries in ul­tras across Nepal be­fore head­ing to Europe. There, she won races in Italy and France—and set a new record for the Mont Blanc 80 km Ul­tra in 2015, fin­ish­ing in 12 hours and 32 min­utes. Her big­gest feat: a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the Skyrun­ning World Cham­pi­onships.

Though any trekker can tes­tify to the en­durance of Nepalis, they are a na­tion of walk­ers, not run­ners. Short stature is a dis­ad­van­tage in road rac­ing. But the rock and scree of moun­tain trails are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Along with Rai, a host of Nepali run­ners are mak­ing waves on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit. One, Dawa Dach­hiri Sherpa—who holds the record for the 166 km Ul­tra-Trail du Mont-Blanc— may well be the most fa­mous trail run­ner in France.

Rai’s man­ager, Kath­man­dubased Bri­tish ex­pa­tri­ate Richard Bull, says Rai’s suc­cess has been stun­ning. But her per­son­al­ity has helped. “There’s a rare com­bi­na­tion of ath­letic tal­ent and charisma there,” Bull says. “You don’t see too many pho­tos of peo­ple grin­ning broadly into the cam­era six hours into a ma­jor race. Nor some­one with very lim­ited English step­ping up for an in­ter­view for French na­tional tele­vi­sion and show­ing no nerves.”

At the mo­ment, Rai is con­va­lesc­ing—in July last year, she had surgery to re­pair a torn lig­a­ment in her knee. “The an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment keeps the knee in the cor­rect po­si­tion,” she says. “I broke it many years ago, but I was lucky to have it fixed by a great doc­tor.” This month, she trav­elled to Italy for fur­ther treat­ment. Rai now plans to com­pete in the 80 km Cha­monix race in France on June 25. But the at­ten­tion hasn’t gone to her head. While side­lined by her in­jury, she helped other vil­lage girls train and be­gan or­gan­is­ing lo­cal races to get them started. “I am just a small per­son who is very lucky,” she says. “I don’t know what to­mor­row will bring—so I just have as much fun to­day as pos­si­ble.”

RAI SET A NEW RECORD FOR THE MONT BLANC 80-KM UL­TRA IN 2015, FIN­ISH­ING IN 12 HOURS AND 32 MIN­UTES

MIRA RAI is a world class trail run­ner who stormed into the lime­light in 2015

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