Runner Mirna Valerio is no stranger to people who stop and stare at her.
Passersby often do a double-take when they see Valerio, a fat, African-American woman, running around the small, mostly white and very rural Rabun County, Georgia.
But the stares don't faze her; Valerio is too focused on her goals, which she documents on her blog, Fat Girl Running, to care about haters.
"People do look, and they say things," Valerio told Upworthy. "But I know what I have to do, and whatever my goal is for the day, I know I need to get it done, and so I go do it."
In a foot race, Valerio could probably outrun most of us. Easily.
She's been running consistently since 2008 — completing multiple 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, marathons, ultramarathons — and is currently training for the pièce de résistance of her running career thus far: the Javelina Jundred, a 100k race (that's just over 62 miles, people! SIXTY! TWO! MILES!).
She also happens to be "clinically obese" at 240 pounds. But that label means nothing because whatever, it takes serious physical and mental strength to run 62 freaking miles. Sixty! Two! Miles! To put that in perspective, 62 miles is the same distance you'd have to travel up from Earth if you wanted to go to outer space. Valerio does not mess around.
Valerio's story has gotten attention recently for breaking down the stigma around fat athletes.
While the reaction from the running community has been mostly positive, there have been naysayers who refuse to believe that someone who looks like Valerio could possibly be a good role model.
But it's Valerio's inspirational devil-may-care attitude toward her critics and her messages of body love and fitness accessibility for every body type and shape that has empowered people to challenge the negative stereotypes surrounding higher weight people and fitness.
“One of the major reasons people don't want to go to the gym is that people are saying 'Oh, you need to go work out,'" Valerio says, explaining the the anxiety and double standard fat people face when they try to participate in athletic activities. "You feel as if you need to lose fifty pounds before you can show yourself at the gym or show up at a race because people do look twice and people do wonder why you're there."
But it's all just background noise to Valerio, and to her, none of that nonsense matters.
She claims her body as it is and loves it and its ability to carry her for miles.
She's not interested in running to lose weight; she's a runner because she loves running. She loves the views from the top of a mountain trail. She loves spending time talking to her friends, mile after mile. She loves seeing what her body can accomplish.
In short: She's a seriously badass athlete.
“Having run for a couple of years now, I know the physical condition that I'm in, and I know what I can do. I know that I can get over whatever kind of hump that it is because I've done it and I know how it feels to get over it, and I'm always looking for that feeling."
Runner's high, indeed.
Valerio preaches the gospel of body love and health wherever she goes.
While she's one of a rare few, amazing people who've managed to dodge the "body shame bullet" in her personal life, she also knows that it's a pretty powerful force (usually in the form of judgment and fat shaming from others) that stops people from getting outside and being active, even when it's something they love to do.
Her advice? Do what you need and want to do in a way that feels good for your body. "You've gotta know yourself and what you are and who you are," she says.
We don't all fit into a one-size-fits all mold when it comes to fitness and health, and that's cool.
“I really want people to feel good about their bodies," Valerio encourages. "Your body is spectacular and can do so many things — and you don't know half of the stuff that it can do!"
If you aren't an aspiring road runner like Valerio, don't fret! There are numerous other ways to embrace your desire to be active; everything from Fat Yoga (or Curvy Yoga) to dancing like Whitney Thore of TLC's "My Big Fat Fabulous Life" to body positive swimming and any other ways to move that you can imagine. There are so many options, but what's important is that you find something that you enjoy doing and that feels good for your body, whatever shape or size it may be.
Find what you love and do you!