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“This is one of my core beliefs: that we allow people to live, to experience, and to express the fullness of their humanity every time and all the time,” reads Mirna Valerio’s website.
Valerio, who is also known as “The Mirnavator,” is many things — a former educator, ultrarunner and author, to name a few. “I am primarily a trail runner, although I run road races as well. I’m a DEI practitioner — diversity, equity and inclusion consultant,” she says in an interview with NRPA’s Cort Jones for the Open Space Radio podcast. “I’m a mom, I’m a cyclist. I get to work with a ton of amazing brands and companies just trying to get people to feel good in their bodies and to get outside in whatever way, shape or fashion is available to [them].”
Valerio may be best known for her blog, Fatgirlrunning. In 2008, she had a health scare that prompted her to reignite her passion for running. Simultaneously, Valerio began documenting her experiences as a larger athlete in what she noticed was a sport dominated by thinner, whiter individuals. “I didn’t really know what blogging was. All I knew was that my friends were like, ‘Stop writing all your stuff on Facebook. Do a blog,’” she says in the Open Space Radio interview. “So, I start this blog and I got some pushback for calling it Fatgirlrunning because I identified as a fat girl who ran — same today — and I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to tell stories of what was important to me — what races I did, the experiences that I had, both positive and negative, and it caught on.”
In 2015, Valerio’s blog was picked up by the Runner’s World website, and the exposure to her writing started a widespread conversation “about whether one can be fat and fit,” she says. “And of course, there were lots of positive and encouraging comments and conversations about this, but there were also negative and very presumptuous commentary as well. In the end, I didn’t really care, because it was about me reclaiming my own health. And if that motivated other people to do the same, to sort of reassess their life, reprioritize things, start a running habit, start a hiking habit — whatever it is, start a going outside habit — then I was going to continue doing that.”
Today, as a writer and speaker, Valerio continues to encourage people to live their lives to the fullest via outdoor experiences in whatever spaces and ways they enjoy most. “I encourage people to always redefine the outdoors or outside as it pertains to them and their own lives and where they live and their lifestyles,” she says. “If being outside means being on your stoop or porch, then that’s the outdoors…. We’ve got to get rid of these notions that the outdoors means just one thing.”
For many people, their local parks are a vital component of their outdoor experience. According to the fitness blogger, there are a few simple steps park patrons and staff alike can take to make these places welcoming for all, so that everyone can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors. “I believe that we have to let people be themselves and do what it is that they do to make themselves happy. Just let them do it! And let’s not step in and try to box people in or pigeonhole them into something because they have a certain look about them, because they have a certain gender… or [because] you have some feelings about them,” she says. “And I think that’s a pretty easy thing to achieve — especially when we’re talking about the outdoors, we’re talking about parks…. Greet people, acknowledge their humanity, be kind, be forgiving. It’s just like the basic rules of humanity. Extend those to outdoor spaces, too.”
Valerio concludes the interview with a succinct bit of advice: “If you know somebody who could use the awesomeness of being outside, invite them along. With no expectations, with no ulterior motives but to help them take part in what it is to be human.”
To hear the interview with Valerio on Open Space Radio, visit the Open Space Radio webpage.
Lindsay Hogeboom is Associate Editor and Writer for NRPA’s Parks & Recreation magazine.