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“Black & Fat” In The Outdoors: The Mirnavator Visits Holderness
Jini Sparkman

There is no terrain too rugged, race too long, mountain too high, climate too severe, or obstacle too difficult to keep Mirna Valerio from feeling the power of her body and using movement as a form of liberation and wellness. In her New York Times bestselling book, A Beautiful Work in Progress, Valerio writes, “This body isn’t meant to be stagnant or cease moving. When we stop moving in mind, body, and spirit, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop living. Therefore, when we stop moving, we stop living. We stop evolving toward being the human we are destined to be.” This is the message she carried to Holderness School these past few days. 

It would be easy to list the accolades of Mirna Valerio: a prolific marathon runner (11 races) and ultramarathon runner (14 races), star of the REI documentary The Mirnavator, 2018 National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year,” Runner’s World featured athlete and cover runner, author of the New York Times bestseller, A Beautiful Work in Progress, appearances on NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, CNN, featured in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, along with numerous articles written in Women’s Running, Self Magazine, Runner’s World, and the blog Fat Girl Running. She is a mother of a high school senior, a classically trained vocalist from Julliard and Oberlin Conservatory of Music a Spanish teacher of 18 years, a seasoned DEIJ practitioner, and an alum of boarding school as both a student and faculty member while currently serving on the board of her alma mater.

But when you ask our students what they learned from her, they didn’t talk about her sponsorship with Lululemon (okay–maybe a little), Ford, L.L. Bean, Hydroflask, or Darn Tough or any of those things listed above. What they remembered was her warmth, that she made them laugh, that she is an athlete who is open and honest with them about what it means to be Black and fat in the world of outdoor sports. We all grappled with the vitriol that she experiences because of who she is in the world of sports – the hate and disdain directed at her while bearing witness to her perseverance and refusal to be deterred because of the aesthetic or constructed social ideas of what she should look like or how she should practice wellness. Not only students but also employees from all parts of our community waited to speak to her, thank her, and let her know how important she is to our world and to their own personal lives. She spent time working with our faculty to consider the importance of the outdoors in our own lives and in our curriculum, met with leaders of our outdoors and Out Back programs, spent time in classes, was interviewed by participants in Senior Thesis, spoke to our entire school community, and dined with our BIPOC students to allow them to talk with her about their own relationships with the outdoors. 

She also led over 40 student-athletes and coaches in a campus run – a community of all of us no matter background or experience or race or gender or body shape – running together across this beautiful campus. She brought us together in a celebration of our bodies and our connection. She reminded us that, for all of us, “This body is fierce, beautiful, and unapologetic. It’s meant to move through the world as it wishes: lifting, walking, and running, rolls, and all. I honor her by continuing to move along the spectrum of health and wellness, and in turn she honors me by living vibrantly.”

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