The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Norma Bastidas is about to complete the longest triathlon ever

Norma Bastidas swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. (Courtesy: Mary Wade)

Normally I try to remind people to stand up and move around, to break up a long workday stint at the computer, especially on a Fitness Friday. But you might just want to stay seated for a few minutes as you consider what Norma Bastidas is about to accomplish. You'll feel tired just reading it. And you will marvel at what one determined human being can do.

When the 46-year-old single mother of two arrives on the National Mall around noon Sunday, she will have set the record for the longest triathlon ever--a 3,789-mile swim-bike-run from Cancun, Mexico to Washington D.C. in 65 days. She is doing it to raise awareness of human trafficking and to show her younger son, who is going blind at the age of 16, that anything is possible.

"For me, it’s personal," she said when I caught her on her cell phone early Thursday morning as she was preparing to hit the road in Burkeville, Virginia, about 160 miles from the nation's capital. "I have a son who’s losing his sight...I’m an example to him when I tell him it’s hard, but it gets better if you continue."

Continuing is all that Bastidas has known for the past two months. First, she swam 122 miles in the Gulf of Mexico, 3 1/2 weeks of sunburns, jellyfish stings and saltwater eating away at her mouth and throat. She spent seven to 10 hours in the water each day, unless the sea was too rough, fed by an all-volunteer crew that followed her in a kayak. She swam 122 miles, but a GPS malfunction wiped out 27 of them, so she will be credited with 95, she said.

Next, it was onto the bike for the "easiest" part of the trip, the 2,932-mile ride from Cancun to LaGrange, Georgia. Except for some pain in her back and her neck, Bastidas said, the bike leg was the "most fun" and least difficult on her body and stomach. She averaged 140 or 150 miles a day, trailed by volunteers in an RV, traversing some human trafficking routes across the southern United States.

And then the 735-mile run began. Even at just four miles an hour, her feet hurt constantly and swell to 1 1/2 times their normal size. Most food irritates her stomach. Her weight has dropped from about 125 to 103. Still, she is pounding out about 40 miles a day.

On Saturday morning she plans to wake up and run the final 80 miles straight through the day and night, arriving on the mall around noon Sunday. When she is done, she will have more than doubled the previous record for an ultra-triathlon. Supporters are tracking her progress on a web site and a Facebook page, and a documentary, titled "Be Relentless," is being made about her journey in partnership with iEmpathize, a nonprofit that works  to combat crimes against children.

Bastidas, who said she is a victim of sexual violence, believes her drive to complete the effort comes from twin passions -- raising money and awareness of human trafficking, and accomplishing something no one else has.

"It has to mean something to you. This is something I dreamed of," she told me  "You hit that moment. And you just think 'this is where most people quit.' Right now, I don’t want to be most people."

In two days, she won't be.

"Two more days, I’m going to be done," she said. "I’m tired. I want to be done. But it’s a privilege."