Most people who have lost a significant amount of weight can point to the “aha” moment when they made the decision to change their lifestyles. For Mirna Valerio, that moment was in 2008 when she experienced chest pains while driving back home from work with her young son in the backseat. At 300 pounds, stressed and overworked, the rural Georgia resident was worried she was having a heart attack. It ended up being only a panic attack, but doctors warned her that if she didn’t change her lifestyle, she probably would have one at some point.
“He reminded me that if I wanted to see my son grow up, I had to make a change. And with those words, I knew what I needed to do,” Valerio writes in a moving essay for Shape.
However, Valerio’s story isn’t one of a formerly overweight person becoming skinny, but rather an inspiring tale of a woman who became a professional runner, capable of running 50K ultramarathons, at 239 pounds.
After her wake-up call, Valerio, a Spanish teacher, began running a mile a couple times a week. At 17 minutes per mile, she wasn’t particularly fast, but she was motivated to improve. She soon started losing weight and, within months, was down 35 pounds and running several 5Ks week. From there, she kept making progress. The following year, she ran her first 10K, and in 2010, her first half-marathon. In 2011, she completed her first full marathon.
Despite her fitness gains, her weight loss plateaued at 239 pounds. However, that didn’t stop Valerio from continuing to run. She began running 50K ultramarathons and started a blog called Fat Girl Running to document her journey and to dispel comments that people made to her like, “Wow, you’re a big girl. Are you sure you should be running?” and “Maybe you should be on a bike or go on a diet.”
Writing about her highs and lows as a plus-size runner, Valerio quickly gained a fan base. “I just wanted to share what I was experiencing as a runner in a big body. People started sharing my stories and little rants about the indignities that fat people face sometimes,” she told CNN.
Now 41 years old, Valerio is an inspiration to many people and has gained attention around the world. She wrote a memoir titled “A Beautiful Work In Progress” that was released in 2017. She even appeared on the September 2017 cover of Women’s Running magazine!
The trail-running enthusiast says she no longer runs to lose weight. Instead, she writes: “I run because it changed my life. I’m not sick all the time anymore and as a result, my son is less sick. I’m able to get through my day without having these huge lows and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.”
Having recently completed a 60K run in New York, it doesn’t look like Valerio will be slowing down anytime soon.