Everybody has a story to tell and we will resonate with some more than others. In reading Melissa Perez’s story you will find yourself gravitating toward the concept of empowering women in endurance sports because of the challenges that Melissa has overcome. Those challenges have led to some remarkable accomplishments but she isn’t done. The idea that she is just getting started is what allows her to continue to get out on the trails and find her limits. Read her story, then go find yours.
Overcoming Early Challenges
Melissa Perez is an accomplished ultra-runner and endurance sports coach who has overcome numerous challenges to pursue her passion. Melissa grew up in a traditional Mexican family in California. Her mother, originally from Texas, worked in the fields. Her father, an alcoholic, lost his card and was deported from California. Now 36, Melissa would only see him several more times in her adult life. Being raised in a traditional Mexican family, Melissa faced skepticism about her participation in sports. But she was determined to defy expectations and thrive as a female athlete. Melissa’s journey began in high school running track and cross country events. She continued to pursue both in college.
Done with Running
After graduation, she decided to push into longer distances, completing the Boston Marathon in 2017. The path towards Boston was anything but healthy and her relationship with the run deteriorated. Then, Melissa was done with running. She lived in Downtown LA and found herself in an unhealthy relationship. Struggling with severe depression, Melissa was on antidepressants. During this pivotal time, Melissa discovered Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, a book she needed at the time to find the courage to get off antidepressants
Her first milestone was completing a 50K race at Malibu Creek State Park, the Bulldog Ultra. This race proved difficult as Melissa had to adapt from road running to trail running on an entirely different terrain. She was unprepared for the steep climbs and differing surfaces of the trail.
Learning from Early Setbacks
During one of her early ultras, Melissa neglected her nutrition and experienced excruciating cramping over the latter miles. She wanted to give up but persevered through sheer determination, eventually crossing the finish line. This early setback only strengthened Melissa’s resolve. She signed up for her first 50 miler to gradually build up her endurance.
Over time, Melissa progressed to running 100-mile races, considered the ultimate endurance challenge. Her first attempt at 100 miles brought new difficulties like extreme nausea and mental exhaustion. At mile 80, she considered quitting. Melissa dug deep and managed to finish in 2nd place out of all women.
Finding Community While Pushing Limits
Looking for community, she began volunteering at races, such as the Moab 240 mile race in 2021. At this race, she paced an athlete named Izzy for part of the race. This experience inspired Melissa to take on the challenge herself. In 2023, she took on the Leadville 100 trail race, known as the “race in the sky”. Then came the Moab 240. The stunning yet remote loop in the Utah desert presented new challenges. Melissa still vividly remembers the La Sals portion, breaking trails through fallen trees and thick brush. She felt utterly isolated. The race also brought joys like stopping at the Needles aid station to eat, drink coffee, and use a physical bathroom. Most important to Melissa was finding community while pushing limits.
Leading Through Empowerment
Melissa has come to love the ultra community like family. Her passion is empowering other women and people of color to take on these intimidating endurance challenges. Melissa co-founded a run group called Chingonas on the Run to support female athletes from diverse backgrounds. She aims to inspire people to challenge societal limitations and embrace their full potential.
Melissa’s own journey shows how perseverance and drive can help anyone overcome obstacles to achieve big dreams. She exemplifies how women can thrive doing hard things if they stay committed to their passion.