Human trafficking, athletic records, and a story of survival

Guest: Norma Bastidas
Norma Bastidas is known for completing ultramarathons and setting the record for the longest triathlon in the world, but her story wasn't always one of athleticism and physical strength. Norma endured a childhood in Sinaloa, Mexico filled with violence and sexual assault only to unknowingly escape into a sex trafficking ring in Japan. After years of abuse, violence, and intimidation, Norma's story is one of incredible resilience. She's sharing how she pushed through physical and mental hardship to shatter records for the longest triathlon in the world. Today Norma uses her platform and visibility as an athlete to raise awareness of the globally pervasive issue of human-trafficking and sexual assault that plagued her youth.
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Norma Bastidas Transcript

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
Today's conversation takes us to Vancouver, Canada, where we're speaking to Norma Bastidas. But we're really starting our story in Sinaloa, Mexico, where her story began. She has endured every kind of sexual assault and violence you can imagine I'm telling you, you have never heard a story like this before. But today, she's actually the Guinness World Record holder for longest triathlon, utilizing her platform to raise awareness on sex trafficking, human trafficking, and these issues that are still so rampant around the globe. This is one of the most incredible stories I think we've ever heard.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
Norma's story is one of bravery and strength. But more than that, it's one of creating a space to talk about this issue, to talk about human trafficking, which is happening all around us every single day, but isn't generally given the space or the voice or acknowledged in a way that creates meaningful action. I mean, her story of strength and resilience is unlike any that we've ever shared on the show. Take a listen.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
Norma, thank you so much for joining us today.

NORMA BASTIDAS
Oh, no, thank you, Sabrina.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
We're really excited to talk to you and hear about your really extraordinary story and your journey to becoming an activist and world record holder. But let's start with your childhood. You were born in Sinaloa, Mexico, where violence and the cartels run rampant today. Sinaloa is known as the narco state and your childhood was really one of much turmoil. What can you tell us about growing up in Sinaloa?

NORMA BASTIDAS
You know, it is such a interesting question. Because I mean, growing up in turmoil, I mean, for so long, it was normalized that I really didn't think it was a global issue or that it was going to become such a known area for, you know, violence against women, and also violence in general, for the cartels. I never thought it was going to be permanent, mostly because you know, we did have a little money when my father died. So, you know, our survival was, the most important thing then thinking about what was happening in terms of the cartels and violence. And so I have a lot of great memories, because, I love Sinaloa, I love the people. I love the country that I grew in. But also, you know I think that the most prevalent memories that I have is of the violence, like witnessing shootings. I think in for me the first shooting I witnessed I was going to the store to get things for my mother, I think I was probably nine. We lived exactly with in the area where the cartel is from. So, you know, that was, that was something that it was normal. It is sad that I knew what to do if there was a shooting. I knew what to do, how to behave even as a seven, nine year old how to behave in a way that that I wasn't going to be retaliated against. Not making eye contact, just becoming invisible, not you know, not telling anybody until I get home and things like that. So it is sad because, you know, Mexico and Sinaloa in particular it is such a beautiful country with beautiful people. But you know, that is my early memories of the cartels taking over.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
That is something most children would never be exposed to having to understand what to do when there's a shooting around you. It's pretty unbelievable.

NORMA BASTIDAS
Yeah, I mean, of all the things that actually permanently added to the trajectory of my life and the choices that I make is it's you know, the violence. It's coming not only from shootings, but sexual violence. You know, especially being a young woman who needed to go to school and also needed to have a part time job as a 13 or 14 year old cleaning a dance studio where they gave me free lessons, but I had to clean it and take the bus home and having to walk - it just became Russian Roulette. Because it was either the federales picking you up and sexually assaulting you, or the cartels. You know, so it was, it was a normal occurrence. And it was dealt with in a way that added to the victim behavior that I exhibited for so long, because in a way it was true. It wasn't just my mentality. The most important thing for my mother to teach me was to survive an assault, not to prevent it, because we had absolutely no way of preventing it happening around us. So it was what to do, just not to fight back. And I mean, things like my mom giving us, safety pins, so we can pinch people in the bus, because, you know, it's just like the groping was constant, and every day, my mom was used to put a little pin when they start grinding behind you to stop. You know, things like that just got normalized. We never questioned that this is something that should happen, it's going to happen you know, this is what you need to do. And that's the reason my whole focus became on trying to get an education or how do I leave these. How do I, you know, live in this area? Because to me the problem was where we were living. And, you know, of course, later, I learned that it was a global problem.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
And your mother was was an advocate for that, right? She wanted you to get an education, she wanted you to start your career. I mean, she was a real advocate for you not getting married early, and having real opportunity, is that right?

NORMA BASTIDAS
My mom was a feminist without even knowing. My mom said, you know, go and get an education. It was just simply the way that she behaved. Most mothers were trying to teach their daughters to not get an education. And if anything happened, like, every time a sexual assault happened, my mom didn't say, "Okay, that's it." It was more like, you know, just deal with it, and then go back out there. So she never victim blamed me, for something that happened, she never taught me that it was wanting a career that was causing that. So especially for somebody who was not taught that - you know, my grandparents weren't exactly, you know, pro women studying and you know,my mom was married off. I think she was barely 16 when she was forced into marriage with my father.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
So I'm curious, because cycles of violence, and sexual assault are such a big part of your childhood, unfortunately. And you were sexually assaulted by your grandfather, when you were 11. And it was something that was not unusual in your community growing up. Was there a place that you could go to feel safe when you were a child?

NORMA BASTIDAS
I think my, I mean, after my father died, my home. That's one place, you know. I am still to these days extremely close to my siblings, and my mother. It was the place where, and I'm glad that there wasn't internet back then. So the abuse once my father died as much as we loved him, and it's a complex relationship, especially because, you know, it's a complex issue - addiction. But it was a place where I could go home and, and my father did many things, right, which is introduce us to books and to music. So once he passed on, we were, you know, all us siblings, just just, you know, fill each other with books and, you know, just lost ourselves in stories or music. So, I'm glad I'm glad for that there was no internet because the bullies and the abuse couldn't find me at home. So that was a blessing.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
I think something important that you're saying is, you know, when you read stories about your childhood, it sounds so traumatic. It sounds like there's so much turmoil, which I think was true, but there's not one side to everything. There's so much that goes into your upbringing, you're talking about how your father was an abusive alcoholic, which, yes, is a huge part of your story. But another part of your story is that he also exposed you to books and music and that there was a love there. And I think it's important to acknowledge that there are, are so many different sides to everyone and to every story, right?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Yeah, I mean, we have to reconcile. I mean, absolutes are dangerous, you know, like, I just don't want to say he was, you know, he was an abuser. Like he wasn't you know, because of his addiction and his problems, especially being a male. I think it's something that we don't discuss often, you know being himself a survivor of sexual abuse and physical abuse, and not being able to seek help because it wasn't manly. He needed to be strong for the family because that was the macho culture. You're the man. I can only imagine. So I have empathy for that in the same way that I have empathy for the people he hurt. He didn't hurt me, but I witnessed him hurting my siblings and my mother. So I can, you know, have to be very mindful of loving him and honoring in accepting that all the how many times he tried. At the end I'm so grateful that he was able to, you know, to fight his addiction and he was sober when he died and he seeked help. And you know, it was said that God has a sense of humor because that was the best two years of my life and then he died of a massive heart attack. I was like, "No, why did you give us hope just to take it away? But I am glad because those two years. we got to know the real father that could have been.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
So your father passes away and your family starts to unravel financially which is understandable. And as a teenager you're contributing to the your family's income you're working in the city. Take us back to that night if you if you're willing when you were taking the bus back home from work to your brother's place, what happened that night?

NORMA BASTIDAS
I went to Mexico City to pursue education it was always something that I wanted for myself. We have to work and post secondary education was just not meant for us you know, we had to work full time and the only way that we could study was in the evenings so it was too dangerous for a woman to do that. So I went to Mexico City to see my brother and to stay with him and get a certification to be an aerobics instructor because back then you know Jane Fonda had started the movement and there was a there was a company in in Mexico City that certified and that meant more income for me once I certified to be able to help my mother. At the time I was the highest earner in the family and I saw the highest earner It was my responsibility to support my mother in the household. So um, so I went to Mexico City and I was I think was a three week and the day that I received the the certification I had my exam I got out of the bus and this is before cell phones of course - '86 or '85 something like that - and I stopped to call my mom to say "I have it. I'm going home tomorrow." And then out of nowhere I think it would have been like in the middle of the afternoon at 3pm or something like that, two men came, grabbed me by the arm, and said "Hey there you are." And just pushed me into the car and kidnapped me.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
And where did they take you?

NORMA BASTIDAS
It had to be somewhere near Mexico City, but it was far enough that it wasn't Mexico City. Like a suburb of Mexico City. Of course you know not being from that area and also the circumstances I don't recall, but it was near enough. But they didn't just drive me directly. They tortured me along the way. They beat me up until you know after a few punches I just simply stopped fighting. They took me out for dinner and just sat me there while they had dinner. It was when I tried to go to the bathroom and one of them followed me and when I came out he wasn't there and I saw a waiter and I said "These men have taken me against my will. Could you help me?" And he goes "No they're very prominent kids of senators and there's no way that I can get involved." I think he said "If I may ask, I think that as a young girl my suggestion is you know don't fight. It'll be over soon and they might even give you money." And that became a tone. So many women in the world they think that's a nice compliment that somebody would you know they will abuse your high places. At least you're not raped the bushes by a weirdo. These are wealthy people, and you might even profit from it. And that became unfortunately, a story - that's the reason why for so long I never talked about it. Because people just kind of looked at me like, "You profited from it. You know, look at you. You should be grateful." Because I dare to not let it destroy me, and just kind of move on and seek opportunities. But it wasn't them. And it wasn't because of them. It was in spite of it.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
And how long about were you abducted by them?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Um, it was, by the end, I think it was somewhere before dawn. It was still dark when they brought me into a house. And around the back, it was a gated community. And it was just like, kind of like a very big house with a small house in the back. And they had me there. And they just started, I don't really understand what's happening. Maybe, you know, I would have either become a victim of human trafficking, or just one of those women that got raped and disappeared, like thousands of women in Mexico City. So they just kind of started arguing. I think by then they were just both really high, really drunk, and they start fighting and they put me in a corner after sexually assaulting me. They start fighting, and then I remember just being terrified there in the room. Assaulted. And then another young man came into the room and opened the door. And I was just terrified, because it's like, "Okay, what now?" It's like watching a movie. I don't I don't know there was at least two, but I don't know if there were so many. Like, there's just flashes of things that come. But I do remember the moment when these kids open the door. And I was terrified. He said, "Why are you here?" And I just kind of simply like, you know, he saw that I was terrified. He said, "Oh, you're not here by choice." And I said, "No." And he just like, "Oh, no." So I just kind of told him, you know, just blurted out "I was waiting for a bus." And he said, "Okay, he's my brother, and I'm going to help you out." So he went out and fought with them. And then he helped me out. He said, "I'm taking you home." And there was just fighting. Glass broke, I think it was bottles of alcohol. And he took me to a motel that night. I was terrified. And it was just the story of not disappearing, not being murdered. Even though they beat me up, it was because one person did the right thing. He helped me.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
He maybe saved your life.

NORMA BASTIDAS
He did. I have no doubt. And I have no money for anything. Like I you know, like I said, my brother was giving me money just for the bus back. And I was like, "I don't know how to go home." He goes, "Okay, this is for the, you know I'm going to buy your ticket. Please forgive us. You know, my brother's like that some times." So I just, I do remember getting the bus and calling my brother, and then calling my brother but I couldn't reach him. But you know his office number. So I call him at home. And he's just like, "Where are you?" It's like, "I have no idea. I have no idea. I've been taken up north." And my brother he doesn't need much explanation. He knew that this was happening. He wasn't like, "Tell me about it." Because I was like "I was taken and I don't know where I am." So he's like, "Flag somebody." And that's when I just, you know, everything. I remember crying asking "Where am I?" And he's like, "I know what station. I know where you are and I know where your bus is going to arrive." So he picked me up. And he put me on a we couldn't afford I don't even know how he did that. But he bought me a plane ticket. First time I ever took a plane. He's like, "There's no way you're taking a bus home." So he put me up on a plane back. And my mom just hugged me and we never talked about it.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
You never spoke of it again.

NORMA BASTIDAS
No, not until I became an activist. That's it. Never spoke about it. It was just kind of like you're alive. That's what my mom wanted.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
It was like, swallow it and just deal with it and move on. That was the message that you got from the people who loved you the most?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Yes, yeah, unfortunately. Because that's where we all I mean, I think it's like so many of us have tried to ask for help. And then it backfires. Because there's like, "Oh, there you go again." Or, "You know, why would you do it and why would you not?" You know, so I think is every time my mom tried a question, it's like, "Hey, is this normal? "She's just simply got beaten down. Like, you know, how dare you ask if it's your fault. That's my mom. And my siblings what they wanted was to protect me. It's like, let's just not talk about it because we don't know how to handle it.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
I just want to acknowledge for a moment that your story you're talking about was in the mid 80s. And nothing has really gotten much better since then. You know, our awareness globally of this issue has broadened. We know now that this exists. We know now that this is an incredibly rampant problem not just in Mexico, but all over the world. But nothing has gotten better since then.

NORMA BASTIDAS
I know. And that's why I'm taking some time giving interviews because I really, you know, my whole life, I just thought if "If we knew and there was awareness" because I really didn't understand anything. I mean, I'd even know about human trafficking or sexual assault. I just knew that, you know, it was more like it was like, "Oh, you were one of the, you know, unfortunate ones." But it wasn't talked about and you know, once I opened my mouth, I couldn't take it anymore. Because I see it happening, I'd open my mouth and I was like, and for years "I believe this is it and we're talking about it, it's gonna change!" Now, nothing. Nothing. I mean, that's just terrible. For me, I always believe that as if we knew about it, the world was gonna change, and we're going to do better, but we still don't.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
So our listeners at this point might be thinking, "Okay, well, that's where the story ends." But no. Let us continue. Because how long was it between that incident in Mexico City and the modeling opportunity in Japan? And then how did that opportunity present itself?

NORMA BASTIDAS
You know, I was like 17 or 18, about a year. I think that the way I dealt, it was more like, "Okay, if I can only move, Okay, maybe it's Mexico." So it was, it was finding the next place, and safer place that opened bigger hells for me, because I still believe that it was something I'd done, not how the world views women, Western women who are vulnerable. So, when somebody came to my neighborhood, so it all became "I need to live." Because I just couldn't do it, I couldn't even feel safe in my family, having to interact with my grandfather. I didn't feel safe in my community, because we still, you know, every single time I needed to walk home, I was afraid of the cartels, or the police. The same thing. So there was no safe area for me. So it became about finding a way out, and education was still proving difficult. Like I said, I couldn't afford anything during the day, I had to work in the evenings. It was terrifying to study in the evenings. So when somebody in my neighborhood said, "Hey, there's somebody who just went to Japan and make tons of money." And, you know, she was a hostess, you know, in modeling and all that. So I begged them, to introduce me to a person, he, they didn't come to me, they came, um, they were seeking a couple of my friends and I begged them "Please, please, please introduce me to her, because I want to go with you." And they brought me along, because I was the one that spoke a little bit of English because my brothers loved English music. So I was begging. She was actually not very sure about me. I don't know, but there was something that she's like, I'm not sure about me. But in now looking back, I, you know, I understand because she's like, I just need a bikini picture, which, unfortunately, is not unusual for somebody who's modeling. And in the next day, she said, "You know, you have a job, they want you to go to Japan." And within three months, they have secure as the passport, visas and plane tickets, three months.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
So you go to the Japan under the guise of a modeling opportunity, and presumably, anything feels better and seems better and looks better right now than where you're coming from and what you've endured. When do you realize that things aren't as they seemed?

NORMA BASTIDAS
I think when they separate us. Like I said, there's no understanding. You know, there's so many people involved, the person that you know invites you to the person that picks you up, you know the person that becomes your sponsor. They take you, they took us to a nightclub, to one of the girls and that up, they just took us to somewhere in Japan. They said, you know, "You're not really Tokyo material." But I was with another friend, so I didn't feel as bad. And like I said, it was just, I wasn't the only one. There was a lot of girls from my neighborhood. They've been kind of invited or recruited, I should say. And so it just felt wrong, but you're helpless. You don't understand the language. You're in a country so far away, that you just put all your trust in these people they become the people that you really depend on for clothing, food, shelter. So it's like becoming a child again. So when they take us to a night club, and we have no idea. I mean, there's so many women, there's, you know, probably 120 women in this nightclub, and it's kind of a big, like kind of almost like a Playboy Mansion. You know, like bouncers and everything. Everything about it just feels wrong, but it's like so normal that you just kind of push all those thoughts those feelings down. And that's the problem, we're the only creatures that presented with danger, we just kind of rationalize. A deer wouldn't be like, "Oh, maybe that's not a hunter" We're the only ones that try to rationalize, because you don't want to see. You're always told "settle down" and "you're too sensitive" and things like that. So every single time you want to scream you just push it down. It's like, you know, "don't don't be sensitive" and things like that.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
Right. And so you you show up and you feel like something's wrong, but nobody else is saying anything. Right? your instincts are telling you this is not right. But there are 120 other women there who are acting like this is completely normal. So you act like it's normal. And then what happens? And then the person that said they bought your contract, now you you're going to work with him and he just leaves and buying your contract means that you are forced to become a basically a high end escort.

NORMA BASTIDAS
Yes, yes. But it wasn't presented like that, you know, work at the club. They earn your trust. And they just continue to chip away against your self esteem telling you that this is normal, and you are so lucky and look at them. And you see, like I said, you see all these women - they're beautifully dressed and they're acting like this is so normal, and they bring somebody who speaks Spanish and they just welcome you. And I just thought it's just simply that I don't have an understanding of what's happening. Plus, it's not happening to everybody, either. Because there's people that you know, they were there by choice just like anything. Human trafficking, unfortunately hides in areas where prostitution is legal. But it is the women that were brought on contract, they have a different circumstance.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
So I just want to paint a picture because where you came from in Mexico, the abuse, the sexual assault, the violence was a lot more in your face, it was a lot more open, obvious. And then you got taken to a place where suddenly, things aren't feeling right. Things aren't seeming right. But it's not so obvious yet. Right? They're not communicating to you like, okay, now you're going to be an escort right? Now we own you. And you have to do this, it was slow. And it was in a country that you didn't speak the language. You were there under you know, they were taking care of you. They had a place for you. They're giving you food, they take your passport even right?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Yes, yeah. With a pretense that, you know, this is important and you're going to lose it.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
So it's essentially you're dealing with the same thing, but in two very different ways in two very different cultures. What did your reality look like? When you were in Japan and you finally realized, okay, this is, this is why I'm here.

NORMA BASTIDAS
From the beginning, I knew they were, I was sensing from them that this is wrong. I mean, I'm a 19 year old, and all of a sudden, I'm in a men's club. I'm Catholic, I am shy, like everything about it. But you know, it just everybody around me is like, you know, they just wanted to you know. I understand now the grooming, the grooming behavior. That's what bringing somebody who speaks Spanish and they tell you you're so beautiful and then so you're just thinking you have absolutely no other person that you can that you can relate to, that you can turn to. So they become your friends. They become the people that you seek help from. So the grooming process took you know, mine wasn't us like you said it wasn't like Mexico. It was a slow process. Because what I didn't know was that you know, they dressed me up. My friend was there too and both of us just hang on to each other, but then they kind of separated us and said "You've just got to go into this area." And then they say, "We want you to put on a Playboy bunny costume." That's when I knew. That's when everything inside me just broke down. And that's what I didn't know the beating has started. So my job for many weeks was to walk around, and to sit at tables. And I remember when that first time I sat down and I just broke down crying. Because I was just like, humiliated. I was just embarrassed, and I'm like, I am 19. And I've never dressed like this, ever. And I'm just here in the middle of everything. And you know that became endearing. The beating became more like you know, the person in charge at the bar, is like, "You're such a hit!" And the more I cried, the more they requested me, you know, to the tables. And they brought the girl that spoke a little Spanish, and, you know, she was like, "Oh, you know, don't worry about it, they just think you're beautiful. And you should be so proud. And you're so beautiful." So for somebody who, you know, that is not the kind of performance that I wanted. But that probably is the place where I went to, to survive. Because, there's no way that you can go home, there's no way that I can call and you know get me home. So surviving was like, "Okay, I'm just starting." It became evident when the bidding stopped, and somebody bought me. And then they forced, that was the moment when it became a completely different. That's where, where things becoming incredibly difficult for me. The moment where I know that it was the process of grooming, to the moment when that brought me and said, "There's somebody waiting for you and they brought me into a hotel. That is a moment where my life changed forever. And it was the nightmares. The nightmares. And there's nothing you could do. I mean, there's bodyguards. In just a moment my life, the new normal, it was the new normal and I fought to stay alive for years.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
I'm going to ask you a question that's been asked of you before, but the reason I'm asking is because I think people have a misconception that it's easy to get yourself out of a situation like that, that it's easy to just snap your fingers and say, No, I don't want to do this and run away. Why did you stay? Why didn't you find a way to get out?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Because for one thing, I didn't know what human trafficking is. If there was no understanding of that I didn't know I had lost. Plus I didn't. I mean we're talking about '87. So there was no law, I had signed a contract. I had I had a debt to pay. They paid for my passport, my visa, my plane ticket, my apartment and my food. Legally, I had to stay no matter what.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
No one was going to come and help you.

NORMA BASTIDAS
Nobody. This is there was no law back then that said this is human trafficking. And it was something that I understood that I there was absolutely no way. I mean, runaway where? Call who?

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
Well, and there were, in fact instances when you did end up going to the police because the abuse got so bad. And that didn't change anything for you either. Is that right?

NORMA BASTIDAS
No, no, no. And that's what I mean. Like, there's, you know, it wasn't like an easy out. This is the same price I paid all my life for, you know, for something that my grandfather helped us. But guess what happened? You know this had happened so many times that you just go, of course. Of course it happened in Mexico happened. You just go like, God, the world, like men are always the same. It was my understanding that this is how men are going to take advantage of you. And it's not now. I understand that it isn't. But for so long we had been put down. It's like, that's how men are, they can't control themselves, and you've just got no one to help you. And you just have to deal with it and then move on. Right? So when that happened, it just kind of like yes, that's the price that has always been. You know there's times that, you do fight back, you just kind of go "No, I just don't want to do this anymore!" And that's when you know, that's when you learn that sometimes fighting, leaving an abusive relationship trying to leave human trafficking is when it becomes the most dangerous part of the journey.

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
Norma this is such a critical point and one that I don't want to just brush past. You said when you try to leave human trafficking, that is where the most difficult part of the journey begins. To Sabrina's point I think this is an incredibly difficult concept for so many of us to wrap our heads around. You had no control. You were completely trapped. You were vulnerable to constant threats and physical violence. What we're hearing you say is that there was no easy way to escape. So how did you finally get out?

NORMA BASTIDAS
It was difficult. For one thing, I managed to pay my debt. But I remained in Japan because I couldn't go anywhere. So I became a student and I lived a semi normal life. One of my brothers came from Mexico, and we were living together and my other sister they had brought there and she just remained. So I had a semi-normal life. I spoke fluent Japanese. In my mind, it was like, "oh, if you just get ahold of your passport, if you get a job, if you become fluent in Japanese," and that didn't change a thing. I did become an actress. I did soap operas in Japan and became a translator for movies and a very successful student in Japan. And it was the school that said, if you get ahold of your passport we'll give it you a visa. And you can remain here legally. So I went from human trafficking and that was my ticket out. And it took a long time for me to earn the trust and to be able to get a hold of my passport. Unfortunately, for me, is like two years into it, or three years into it, whatever it is the sexual assaults have continued. I was raped on the streets, but they didn't do anything because I had a record of working at a bar. And then one night, I was attacked and almost killed. And it was kind of one of those things. I don't know if it was random. Because, you know, you're a foreigner. And they can do that to you. Or it was a warning of saying, you can never leave, you know a warning to other women. I don't know what happened. But when they almost murdered me and I woke up disfigured and I had to have intensive surgery. That's when the whole thing is like "I need to leave again." So I met a Canadian and I married him. And it was rather quickly. But I just simply, I knew that I couldn't live in Japan any longer without risking my life. So we married. And it was for the wrong reasons, but it helped so much.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
All right, I want to transition to your road to recovery. You met a Canadian man while living in Japan. You started dating you quickly got married, you move to Canada. You have two young sons, and then your marriage falls apart pretty quickly. At this point, what was your mental state? What were you enduring emotionally and mentally? You have two young kids. You're now a single mother. You're in a whole different country. You have just endured some incredible abuse, sexual assault, trafficking. What was your mental frame of mind?

NORMA BASTIDAS
I became a single mom rather quickly. I had just had a baby and a three year old when my marriage...My marriage never worked because it was never for the right reason. I think we both tried and but he just simply one day said "I just can't do this anymore" and he left me in Canada. But it was a different thing because Canada didn't take advantage of me. It didn't say "Oh, you're vulnerable". I was able to secure a loan, which is huge. I went back to university. The road to healing took a long time, but tonot have the burden that I had to make undignifying choices to support my family. Because by then we were all doing a bit better. To be able to be with my children and being able to mother them and raising them in a different way. So it was the moment when I thought I needed to confront everything because I don't want the cycle to repeat. It was like we've been Russian nesting dolls who fought for abuse. And I thought, "No way."

KASSIA BINKOWSKI
So Norma, there's an entire other chapter of your story and it gets extraordinary in another remarkable way. It is a chapter about clawing your way back to physical and emotional strength unlike most of us have ever known. When did you first put on a pair of running shoes? When does that transition happen in your life?

NORMA BASTIDAS
So a while after I went back to university I got a diploma. I was transferred to evening college. I had two years left and I was working. My ex and I had reconciled in a safe way, he took ownership and did some therapy. We have a great relationship. Like I said, it just, it's a complicated issue. And he just acknowledged those things. And we're working. We're co-parenting. I'm safe, I have a great job. I'm dating a fantastic guy, waiting for a promotion. And then my oldest son who's 11 he is diagnosed and starts to go blind, just like that. The running was because I couldn't breathe. And I couldn't stop crying. And I thought, I'm doing these things but I also need to make my family responsible for not addressing my grandfather. And that was terrifying. But I knew that was important because I was a single mother, with an 11 year old. You know, I was 11, when my father died, and my grandfather was blind. And now my son is going blind, it was just like the whole universe was saying, "You need to address this." I couldn't breathe. And the running was something because I knew that I couldn't do what I've done in the past, which is hide behind alcohol.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
I think it's important that people understand that the road to recovery is not a straight line, right. And it's so different for everyone. Fast forward to 2013, you dream up this idea of setting a world record for the longest triathlon ever - a 3762 mile journey from Cancun to Washington, DC following a known route of human traffickers. You have since accomplished many record setting physical feats. These stories and accomplishments have been well documented, but what we're really particularly interested in is how were you able to get to a point where you can speak publicly about your past?

NORMA BASTIDAS
That was little by little. I mean, you first need to be able to have a safe space to talk about these things. You know who you tell is as important as if you tell, because if you tell the wrong person, it can set you back, it can damage you even more. So I've been fortunate enough to have people that I could safely tell my story, and they could help me understand. And I have friends who, you know, have experienced abuse, and they guided me to organizations and advocates and they taught me how this is not normal, not normal to be abused, it's not something that will happen to you and deal with it. So it was first in the safer space. You know, before the #metoo movement, we used to have these conversations in you know, church basements, or smaller gatherings because it was the safer space for us. We couldn't tell the world our story without suffering horrible consequences. So we met with other survivors. Human trafficking is something that is still very complicated, very complex. A lot of people still, you know, because of the consequences, we still think is that the woman is chained in a basement and it's like, 10,000 men a night or you're not being trafficked. So when I met somebody who had been in Japan, in those the circumstances, and she's the one - the first one - that just said "It was trafficking", and I'm like, "but I wasn't in a basement," she's like, "It doesn't matter. You're in the same circumstances." She was from Colombia. So she's the first one. I was like, "But I signed the contract. And I never tried to run away. And when I tried, I went back." And she was like, "You know, you're a survivor, you're a survivor." And she's like "Some activists of sexual abuse, if you do not address it openly you're helping recruit. I'm sure they're still taking women from your community." And that kind of weighed on me. I was thinking "She's right. She's right, I need to open up." And it is a complicated thing. Because, you know, it was the first time that I kind of addressed that issue. So it was first in a safe space wiht other survivors. We helped each other find the language, find the commonalities. And then you know, and then little by little I'm opening. My first time that I spoke about this issue just right after the record was set, it was the first time I ever addressed it. I did the biggest record that I could find, you know I didn't know how to swim. That's why I went after a record that I had to learn because I wanted to, by then I had been running for such a long time and setting records that people just felt like, well, you should just keep running. I'm like, watch me do something with my ability to not give up. And that's how you change the world.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
Let's recap. You are a survivor of sexual assault of abuse of human trafficking. Then you became a single mother. A bad breakup in your marriage, alcoholism, I mean, depression. The list goes on and on. Today, you are a Guinness world record holder. You You have broken records, you have a platform. You are written up in articles, there is a film about you. What do you want to say to the many voiceless girls and women out there who are still surviving every day in the world of human trafficking?

NORMA BASTIDAS
Keep fighting. It's complicated. I hear it all the time. I even had a conversation yesterday, I was like, "Well we tried and she keeps going," and I'm like "We need to tell them it does not matter your circumstances of how you are, where you are, as long as you're starting point." And to some of us that journey is incredibly long to get yourself to the other side, but keep trying. Keep trying, because you're worth it. And this is, it's incredible. Like, my life is nothing. Even though I still have challenges. I've just got divorce number two - it becomes more fun! But I love the fact I don't see it as divorce is never gonna happen. I see it like, "Look at me, look at me taking chances! You know, look how I expect things to work out. Why wouldn't it I'm amazing?" So I see it as part of being a person that it's it's it's a work in progress, but it's it's it's on the other side, because I'm not just not participating just allow things to happen. I am taking chances. Sometimes I break records and sometimes I divorce, but that's part of life, you know, your ups and downs. So keep trying because you're worth it. If you keep trying it's like like, you know, I think that my races are incredibly long, but they are a metaphor of you know how life is. Eventually you reach the finish line, no matter how long it takes. You just take it one stage at a time. So no matter what happens, why you are where you are. Nobody has the right to tell you that it is your choices that lead you there. It doesn't matter. You still don't deserve it and keep trying.

SABRINA MERAGE NAIM
Breaking Glass is a production of Evoke Media. Evoke is a nonprofit organization that exists in order to elevate the people and stories that are working to make the world a more unified and equitable place. Learn more at weareevokemedia.com

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