I was born in the mountains of Thailand, but my family immigrated to America when I was 11. Along with other refugees, we fled from the communists my family fought during the Vietnam War. Although we lived in a different country, growing up as a Hmong daughter in a very traditional home, high standards were expected. My siblings and I were taught at a young age that sports were frowned upon - especially for women.
But I strayed against the stereotypes, joining my school’s basketball and volleyball teams. I wasn’t the best player on the court, but I showed up every day to practice and never missed a game. I spoke very little English, which made it challenging and scary, but I had great teammates who helped my self-esteem grow.
As I entered adulthood, my curiosity grew. I wanted to see what challenges awaited me around the next corner. Aged 32, I discovered running and my world changed. For me, it wasn’t just a way to run away from life’s troubles, but the chance to run towards a solution. A solution to strive to be better every day, to be confident, dream, and explore.
I finished my first marathon the same year and have competed in countless since. Sometimes I’m the last runner to finish, but I’m just as proud as the first runner. It reminds me of the bravery I learned when trying out for sports teams and learning to adapt to a world I barely knew.
Shortly after I began running 50 mile races, I found out that I had become the first Hmong female ultra-runner. The title humbles me, but doesn’t define who I am as a person. I’m proud to be part of the few who are breaking barriers for the younger generations and encouraging southeast Asian women to be curious of their full potential, rise above judgment in the community, and live courageously.
My advice to other girls is this: what you think, you believe. Negative thinking is a harmful, and damages your happiness. Your thoughts are your reactions to everything that goes on in your life. Don’t let them affect what you want to do. Become what you want - no matter how hard it may seem. You have the opportunity to make a difference in the world, simply by being yourself.
Written by Community Ambassador Youa Buchana
Youa Buchana is the first Hmong female ultra runner. She is originally from Thailand, but now live in the United States.
She started running four years ago to get fit. She's since run multiple marathons, 50 kilometre races and recently completed a TRIFECTA marathon (three states, three marathons, three Days) a 50 Miler and a 100km race. She is also working towards becoming a member of the World Marathon Majors club (two down, four to go!)
She is very passionate about empowering women, particularly those who come from ethnic backgrounds which may not be as supportive of women in sports.