Human trafficking survivor becomes record-breaking triathlete

Meet the changemaker who raises awareness about sexual violence and demonstrates that the human spirt can rise above anything

ByAnabel Munoz and Jose Mayorquin KABC logo
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Sexual violence survivor becomes record-breaking triathlete
Norma Bastidas survived human trafficking and went on to become a record-setting triathlete. She's now a changemaker who raises awareness about sexual violence and demonstrates that the human spirt can rise above anything.

LOS ANGELES -- Truth can be stranger than fiction. It would be difficult for most Hollywood screenwriters to imagine Norma Bastida's real-life story of survival.

"Growing up, it was a very difficult environment because of the cartels and surviving sexual violence," said Bastidas, an immigrant from Mazatlan in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. "Unfortunately, it's a reality for a lot of young people. I was trying to escape that when I was offered a job in Japan. It turned out to be not a real job offer, and I ended up being trafficked into a bar and became an escort."

Eventually, Bastidas was able to flee her captors. After living in Canada for a number of years, she settled in Los Angeles. Attempts to cope with her dark past led to the life-altering discovery of a hidden talent and calling.

"Running was a way for me to confront all those demons I had. Within six months, I ran my first half marathon because my best friend was a runner and I passed her. And that's when I thought, 'you know what, I'm going to find my limits,'" said Bastidas.

She went on to run her first full marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. She then took on ultrarunning and people took notice. Despite gaining international attention for her world record-setting runs, Bastidas wasn't yet ready to reveal her full story. But after a negative encounter with a potential sponsor, she was emboldened to let her truth be known.

"They didn't want to work with human trafficking survivors, because they didn't want to work with 'those' women. And in one meeting, I was like 'I am in one of those women.' That was the first time I publicly ever said that," said Bastidas.

Now determined to be a voice for human trafficking survivors she decided to take on her biggest challenge yet -- the Guinness record for the world's longest triathlon, a record held by a man. Norma's pursuit of this incredible feat is chronicled in the 2017 documentary "Be Relentless" produced by iEmpathize.

"I wanted to go from Cancun to Washington D.C. to follow a human trafficking route to connect both countries. It was 3% swimming, 78% cycling and 20% running," she said. "It was 95 miles swimming and I didn't know how to swim. But I was determined."

Bastidas is now an inspiration for women everywhere. She shares her remarkable story with organizations like the East L.A. Women's Center and other groups empowering women throughout the world. She was even invited to speak at the United Nations to advocate for victims of human trafficking and sexual violence.

To learn more about iEmpathize humanitarian efforts, click here.