Fifteen-year-old Catalina Rascón has dreams of becoming a doctor and winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Such clear ambitions might be common in many teenagers today, but not for those where Rascón hails from. She is a Tarahumara, an ethnic group suffering from endemic poverty and hunger in Chihuahua, Mexico. Despite the odds being stacked against her, Rascón is clear about her goals, and as she stated in a recent interview with Al Jazeera, she hopes to become a role model for her community.
It seems like she is on the right track. Carlos Ortega, a former professional soccer player who now directs a project that aims to train 25 Rarámuri children in Olympic-style running, sees Catalina as his role model.
“I want these kids to be like the Kenyans at the Olympics,” said Ortega in the same interview. “Kenya had war, poverty, and hunger – but their athletes had the same inborn gifts of stamina and strength that we see in the Rarámuri,” he added. “These traits are the most important things, because they can’t be taught. The rest is just training.”
Adapting to shorter distances will be an interesting task, however. “I already miss the long-distance races,” Catalina said. “My first competitive race was against adults, on a 60km course, when I was 12. I won that one. These suit my natural style: the tiredness becomes mental after a while, and the freedom I feel when I run makes it easy. On these short courses, Carlos is trying to get me to ‘float’ when I run, rather than take slow, steady steps that are shorter. I need to add speed to resistance, so I watch Ana Guevara a lot. She was really fast – but, more importantly, she gave it everything.”
Despite the many obstacles, Catalina seems positive and determined to endure anything that comes her way, just like her people have been doing throughout history.
You can read the entire Al Jazeera feature about Mexico’s teenage Rarámuri here.