The Beyond The Ultimate Jungle Ultra Marathon is considered to be one of the toughest races in the world. Set in the Manu National Park, Peru, covering 230km deep in the rainforest, the impenetrable nature of the jungle has only seen 50 people complete the five-stage race, despite over 300 attempts to cross the finish.
Gabriella Mathisen, an amputee runner from Norway, is one of these 50 who has completed the full race in 2023, becoming the first woman to ever finish the race. Mathisen still beams as she describes her triumphant finish: "It was amazing. And I can see when I see the video of myself. I'm like, shaking, shaking my head. And I just couldn't believe it."
Mathisen's journey to ultra-running glory was not an easy one. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, her father was an alcoholic while her mother was a drug abuser. This led her down a path of drug addiction and prostitution, something she battled with for years. At 18, Mathisen got an infection in her right arm and ended up in a coma for six weeks, resulting in the amputation of her right arm.
Mathisen's turning point came a few years later, when her 27-year-old cousin, with whom she was very close, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She recalls the last conversation she had with her aunt (her cousin's mother) before her cousin passed away: "She said to me, can you please promise me you'll stop using heroin because you don't have to die."
"And just five days after that, my aunt took her life. And then it became a life mission for me to keep my promise to my aunt and cousin and also give myself the life I always felt that I really deserved."
Gabriella relocated to the mountains with her loyal bull terrier, discovering a newfound passion for running. It provided her with "a sense of control" and "self-esteem" she'd always yearned for but never found amidst her tumultuous past. Running evolved into a medium for fulfilling her adventurous spirit, propelling her into races across the globe. She notes how she gets her motivation during her races from her aunt, cousin and a women's centre in Norway - an organization that aims to help women in prostitution.
For many runner, running is an outlet but for Gabriella, it truly transformed her life and opened a world of new possibilities - allowing her to travel the world, meet new people and create new memories.
"It's been a process of me becoming stronger and more grounded in myself. And I've met also a lot of amazing people. I just changed out my bad memories with new memories."
Beyond her running pursuits, the HOKA brand ambassador is also a public speaker and business owner, dedicated to using her platforms to share her story with the hope of inspiring people to overcome adversity.
"When you have a dream, and it's personal for you, you can get like misunderstood along the way. Sometimes, the bigger dreams that you have, the more misunderstood you will get. But you know, it's so important to just push it away. Don't listen to the naysayers and go after what you want, whatever it is."
Watch the full episode where we have an exclusive chat with Gabriella on the Her Sport Show