“This 18 year old girl is really impressive,” say Salomon Running on Twitter. That’s a big thing to hear from the world’s biggest and best trail running sports team. That came midway through the MSIG Lantau 50km race in Hong Kong last weekend (December 4th). And then this at the finish line, “Sunmaya finish 2nd of her first 50km race!! What an amazing girl ????Congratulations!!!”
But don’t forget Purna Laxmi Neupane. Sunmaya 2nd behind the current trail running world champion, and Purna coming on 4th not too far behind an Adidas sponsored athlete. Both just 18, both running their first 50 km distance on a particularly tough course. Normally both are training for athletics events, for 5, 10 or 21 km races, which of course are on road or track.
It’s another result for connecting talent with opportunity. Sunmaya and Purna came to the Manaslu Trail Race in November after wins in short distances at the Kathmandu Ultra and Godawari Running Festival. Manaslu is a stage race, and the rest of the competitors watched these two girls push hard day after day, beating the times of winners of previous years. It was clear there was talent that needed a bigger opportunity.
Specialist running photographer, and director of the Mira film, photographed the race, and made a small photoshoot before the event.
And so Hong Kong. Mira Rai came second in this same race in 2014, but is recovering from injury. Would she take them to Hong Kong and mentor them for the race? “Yes, why not. Very great!” was Mira’s predictable response. And so with favours called from all directions, after a busy 5 or 6 days, the girls had a new passport, a Hong Kong visa, and paid for flight tickets, and an amazing experience ahead of them.
We can talk about meeting the sea for the first time, or discovering that it is salty, and all of the wonderful things that happened, including proving their talent and winning prizes.
But in this short space, better to remark on their courage. Both are young girls from a remote mountain area, and to be running, as they do with Karnali Sports Club, is a breakthrough in itself. What they are doing is showing that women can do whatever men do and more, going directly against ingrained patriarchal attitudes. Here Sunmaya speaks with the Chinese News Agency in Kathmandu.
“My family is against my choice of getting into sports. Rather, they want me to settle down. But I want to continue my studies and and become a national player some day. I hope they would change their mind then.”
Saroj Shahi is a coordinator at Karnali Sports Club, founded by Nepali running legend Hari Rokaya, said to Xinhua,
“We are on the drive to engage more and more number of young girls into sports to help them fight illiteracy, discrimination and social stigmas. The craze is increasing gradually and we are hopeful that it will bring positive changes soon.”
Saroj sent photos from the club training in all seasons, posted in the gallery below.
Their aim is worth supporting. Lizzy Hawker recently dedicated her 42-day, 1600 km Great Himalaya Trail epic to raising money to enable girls to run. Her fund is still open, and you can add a donation to it. It’s not just about running, or winning, but changing attitudes, widening horizons and improving lives. It’s important.
Once again congratulations to Sunmaya and Purna Laxmi. Amazing women!