Racing to the Olympics, against all odds

A 25-year-old single mother from Guatemala is on the path to realising her dreams of Olympic glory after being qualified to compete in the London Games.


    When I arrive at Guatemala's national stadium to meet with Olympic racewalker Mirna Ortiz, she's nowhere to be found.

    After a dozen unanswered calls to her Cuban coach, Mirna finally calls to say that they're training in a parking lot on the other side of the stadium. There's an international friendly football match here tonight and no one - not even the Olympic team - is allowed on the track.

    Filming Mirna training in the parking lot is nearly impossible. Cars are driving back and forth, forcing me to move my tripod the minute I get it set up. And while the athletes appear to get right of way most of the time, there is no mistaking I am witness to some rather challenging training conditions.

    The following day I meet Mirna at 6:30 in the morning back at the stadium. This is their scheduled training time and I film as much as possible before the athletes have to leave the track.

    Then Mirna and I hop into her mid-90s Toyota Corolla and head to Zone 18, where she shares a home with one of her brothers and his family.

    Reggaeton blares on her stereo while we careen through the streets of Guate. This is Mirna's first ever car and she wants to know if her driving scares me, as it had a Guatemalan reporter the previous week. I tell her I think she's a good driver. She seems pleased.

    We pull up to a corrugated metal fence along a small side-street. Inside is a piece of land left to Mirna by her mother.

    The not-for-profit group Habitat for Humanity is building Mirna a small house here for her and her two sons, and she wants to check on the progress. The house is very basic - one small room with a bathroom and tiny bedroom off to the side. But it's made of cement blocks and, as Mirna says with pride, "it is all mine."

    Corrugated metal home

    A few doors away is the home Mirna currently shares with her brother, his wife, and their children. I follow her up the steep, dirt steps and enter the dirt-floored corrugated metal home. Inside two of Mirna's brothers, their two wives, three babies, and another sister-in-law greet her.

    One of her sister-in-laws is boiling beans over a makeshift wood-burning stove outside the house and I start to film. She explains that the beans taste better cooked over an open flame, but I get the feeling she's trying to cover for the fact that they don't have a stove.

    At my request Mirna's brother digs out a small book of family photos. They flip through time, laughing at themselves when they were kids. But when the family comes to a photo of their mother surrounded by her twelve children, they fall silent.

    "She inspired all of us to try our very best," Mirna tells me. "Even towards the end when she was sick she continued to work ... it was all for us."

    Earlier that day Mirna's coach told me that competitions are won in training, and that much of Mirna's talent comes from how hard she trains.

    Mirna's two young boys are what motivates her. And while the demands of training and competing at the Olympic level might mean she is separated from them for a short time, in the long run she is determined to give her children a brighter future.



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