By Jenna Chow
The Everesting Challenge was successfully held by Asia Trail Girls from the14th of May to the12th of June 2021. The purpose of this event was to raise money for “Mira Rai Initiative”, which supports female Nepali trail runners with potential in their training and education. Since my undergraduate years, gender issues and women empowerment have been my interest and concern. With such a meaningful intention which echoed with my calling, joining the Everesting Challenge was irresistible to me. That said, climbing 8848m was a pure wishful thinking to a newbie like me. Luckily, ATG provided options of “half Everest” (4420 m) and “mini- Everest” (884m) for participants. I was delighted to accomplish my “mini- Everesting challenge” on the 12th of June.
A Sisyphean challenge
I think every elevation challenge is a Sisyphean challenge because challengers must go up and down along slopes or staircases repeatedly. On that day, I went up and down a staircase heading to the peak of Braemer Hill in Hong Kong seven times. The action of Everesting can be regarded as “the absurdity of human existence” in action. But Everesting challengers are not necessarily “absurd” per se. One of the interpretations of the Myth of Sisyphus is that humans can only struggle alone in face of fateful suppression. But Sisyphus existed dutifully after all. He did not seek comfort through religions or reason, nor did he distract himself by chasing happiness and power. He did not commit suicide, nor did he degrade his life. Borrowing the idea from Camus, whenever Sisyphus walked down the mountain from the peak after pushing the boulder which fell back down again, he was greater than his fate because he had realized the absurdity of his situation and reached a state of contented acceptance.
I was utterly surprised to receive this certificate!
A runner greater than her fate
How can I not mention the founder of “Mira Rai Initiative”, Mira Rai when talking about stories of overcoming fates? In an interview on his book “The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance”, the author, Adharanand Finn said that among all the stories he had written about trail runners, Mira’s is the most remarkable.
It is common knowledge that women suffer from low socio-economic status in many developing countries, including Nepal. With the lack of opportunities and social mobility, the fates of many women, especially those who are from the rural have been written before they are born: early arranged marriage (at age of 13 or 14), giving births, taking care of families etc. Indeed, this is already an “ideal” script of life as it is not uncommon that some young girls are sold and trafficked to other countries. Mira was no exception that her grandmother was disappointed when finding out that she is not a boy, but a girl who is “destined” to become a burden of the family. But Mira renounced these gendered stereotypes, she didn’t believe that she is less than any boy.
In 2003, 14-year-old Mira realized the opportunity to prove her point during the Nepali civil war: she joined the Maoist insurgency, the antigovernmental force, in hope to earn money as a child soldier to support her family. The experience in the military offered her opportunities to partake in sports and physical trainings, thus, unexpectedly revealed her gift in running. She was always the fastest among all the child soldiers. To Mira, regardless of the stressful environment in the military, running in the woods and mountains always made her happy. Paradoxically, the signing of the Peace treaty between the Maoist and the government did not bring peace to Mira’s life but crisis – she didn’t know her place after losing the job and income as a child soldier.
In 2014, 24-year-old Mira got a visa to work in a factory in Malaysia. But before departure, she once again, negotiated with her fate – she went to the capital city to participate the “Kathmandu West Valley Rim 50K”. Surprisingly, with the lack of training and sufficient gears, Mira won her first international race. Since then with the help of some sponsors, she kept re-writing her fates one step at a time by winning various world-class trail races, including Mont-Blanc 80km (2015) and Skyrunning Asian Championships (2015), which was held in Hong Kong. The fact that she was voted as National Geographic's People's Choice Adventurer of the Year in 2017 is another proof that Mira has changed the trajectory of her fate.
What makes a legend
Mira is one of those successful women who are dedicated to empower other women through their influence. This can be shown from the goals set in her NGO, “Mira Rai Initiative” – to provide Nepali female trail runners education, world-class training and support and to promote running as a mainstream sport.
I think it is fair to say that the “troubles” most women in developed regions face regarding running might be “whether it is helping me to lose weight” or “ which are the better shoes to wear?” etc. However, the act of running, in the eyes of young Nepali girls does not appear to be an inborn right. Sayings such as “running harms the birth-giving ability” and “no one will marry a girl who runs” still exist. As aforementioned, the social mobility of these girls mostly depends on arranged marriages, it is needless to mention occupational ladder for them.
Therefore, Mira Rai is the Nepali legend not only because she has countless individual achievements which make her the country’s superstar, but also her influence in giving women’s alternatives, both literally and inspirationally. The 24-year-old Nepali trail runner, Sunmaya Budha, who won the third place in Oman by UTMB (2019) is one of the athletes who is supported by Mira Rai Initiative. For more fate-changing stories, please visit https://miraraiinitiative.org/ee-2021/.
Lastly, there is one thing about Mira that really fascinates me. She seems to be truly happy about running. I have a strong impression of her happiness after watching her video clips and reading comments from people who have talked to her. As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, where running (among many things) is mostly introduced as a form of competitions and is all about winning, it is refreshing and uplifting to notice Mira’s pure love and passion in running, as an impoverished village girl, a child soldier or an internationally renowned trail runner.
From accomplishing my mini-Everesting challenge until getting this article done, the melody of the song “Mount Everest” was in my head. “Mount Everest” is written by American song-writer and singer, Dawn Landes, who wrote this song to celebrate Tori Murden McClure, the 1st woman and 1st American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Why would you climb Mount Everest Why would you row the sea Why would I climb Mount Everest ‘Cause it’s in front of me Ask me oh ask me, Dear Inquisitor What is it you don’t see Why would I climb Mount Everest Because it’s there for me Ask me oh ask me, Dear Inquisitor Why put myself through all the pain My answer, my answer oh, inquisitor Will always be the same It’s not about going from Point A to Point B Through solitude and all the uncertainty I’ll confront my demons before they get to me Why would a caterpillar lock itself in a cocoon Just so it can fly free I’ll slip into my row boat now, and soon See what becomes of me I watch the seagulls and terns all head back to the coast The one who’s flying the highest can see the most I wanna know what he knows It’s not about going from Point A to Point B Through solitude and all the uncertainty I’ll confront my dreams and come out clean
I humbly dedicate this article to Ms. Mira Rai, ATG, the first Hong Kong woman to climb Mount Everest, Ms. Tsang Yin-hung and predecessors who have contributed in breaking the chains tied to women's feet through sports.