Editors note: By now we all know Ma and if you don’t, she is one of the kindest people you will meet. Her heart and soul are poured into her cause, Family Reach (which she explains in this piece). Thank you for sharing, Ma!
Once upon a time, a long time ago (OK, really it was the early 70’s), a little girl was visiting her Abuelita in Puerto Rico and saw a muddy hillside. And she climbed to the top of the hill and slid all the way down. And as she slid she squealed with glee… I guess that can be the beginning of doing things that may not be considered “traditional”.
I’ve always loved to do things not quite ordinary. Growing up I loved to play spies, cops and robbers, and go camping just as much as I loved my Barbie dolls. My favorite playmates were my godmother’s son, Johnny (yes, he was my first crush), and cousins who liked to go outside and romp and play. I grew up watching Police Woman, Wonder Woman, and Charlie’s Angels and dreamt of a life where I could be a hero and help others (while still having my hair look awesome). Fast forward to my early 20’s and I had lots of jobs, and had no idea where my career path should be, but I knew I wanted law… or teaching… or a superhero. When I was in my early 20’s, Johnny was diagnosed with leukemia. We were the same age and still relatively close. I wished upon all hope that we were a bone marrow match but we weren’t. He finally found a match towards the end of his treatment. However, the treatments he went through after the transplant didn’t help him post transplant, and he passed away way too soon. All I felt was anger at myself for not being smart enough to be able to figure out how to help him. That loss and helplessness never quite went away.
But the one thing I did take away was to take risks. The worst thing that can happen would be failure and I was not afraid of that. So I applied and was accepted as a federal agent with the US Border Patrol (Class of 349). With great honor and pride I dedicated my life to serving our country and protecting our border in the southwest. In my class, it was full of Navy Seals, Army Rangers, former SWAT, and me. Can we say odd lady out? While at the academy, I befriended and was adopted as a sister by two awesome classmates, Manuel Oropeza (MannyOP) and Roy Duron. Both former military, they saw I was alone, with no one around to help me. They trained by my side, looked out for me and made sure I never ever gave up. The physical training was grueling. Some of the instructors and a few fellow agents made it their mission to try to have me quit. Quitting was never an option. MannyOP and Roy would run extra laps with me, helped me build upper body strength through training, and taught me how to climb over the 8ft high walls, monkey bars, and rope line hand over hand. The concept of fraternal love and family that you choose became a part of my nature.
After I got married to another agent in 2001, I left the patrol in 2002 when my son Mikey was born expecting to return. I became happily divorced in 2004 right before my second son Manny was born and had to start all over again. I couldn’t return to the patrol as a single mom. So one of my best friends helped me start teaching as an aide while I returned to school full time at night as I raised my sons by myself. It was a point of honor for me to earn my degree and, have my sons see me have my bachelors degree conferred. I started teaching law enforcement in a vocational high school, went back and earned my masters. Now I am an administrator in a middle school and am working on my doctorate.
Unfortunately, brain cancer took MannyOP from me, my sons who are his godsons, and his daughters who are my goddaughters about 7 years ago. Again that same feeling of anger and helplessness washed over me. I had already begun volunteering with Family Reach, an organization that helps families with children battling cancer by easing their financial burdens. I may not be smart enough to create a cheap and easy cure for cancer, but I can always help a family out by easing their burden in some way. Through their Reach Athletes program, I have been actively fundraising for years and have been honored to be their Ambassador with the Obstacle Course Racing community. And why OCR? Because of Johnny and MannyOP. If it wasn’t for them, I would have never experienced the life I’ve lived. Johnny let me play with him even when other boys didn’t want a girl around. MannyOP… well he was my brother in green (the color of our uniforms) and never wavered in backing me up.
So now I continue to train, run OCR’s dedicated to MannyOP, Johnny and those battling cancer, and raise my sons to be real men of character. You will usually find me and mine on the course, always with a Reach Athlete/FamilyReach something on and always trying to raise money to help others. Happily this year, I became a NE Spahten (even though I live in New Jersey: thank you Sean Gifford & Paul Jones) and our NES Family backed me up by joining Sean Gifford and I for the 2014 Spartan Charity Challenge. Between our NES donations raised by fellow Spahtens, NES fundraisers with BattleFrog donations, FIT Challenge fundraisers, and winning 2nd place as highest fundraising team with Spartan Race, we raised over $10,000 this year alone. <<>>
My training consists of TaeKwonDo at Dragon Kim’s Karate in New Jersey, anything and everything outdoors with my dog Babygirl and my sons, as well as incorporating carrying tires and my wreckbag in everything. I run listening to military cadence and you may hear me calling cadence to myself out on the course. Dancing Salsa/Mambo, Chacha, Tango & scuba diving rejuvenates my soul. In the midst of all of this, I’ve lost over 75 lbs, learned how to scuba dive, and jump out of perfectly good airplanes. I have had my left ankle, and right wrist reconstructed. Pretty much had about every body part broken and fixed. Even though my knees can hurt really bad in a race I still press on, because I have families battling cancer who need my help and two sons whom I need to lead by example. I eat relatively well, love pizza, and realize that wheat is the devil whom I love to dance with. And btw, I’m still waiting to see if the actor/wrestler Dave Bautista meets me and falls in love (hey, a lady can dream lol).
Life is an epic adventure to enjoy, take risks, and pay forward all the blessings on this earth. In continuing with my mission, this coming 2015 year I plan on FIT Challenge with my sons (they are beastmen in the making), a BattleFrog 5k with my boys, Double Trifecta and the Death Race (when I finish the proceeds for my share will go to FamilyReach). Let us never forget that the day after the VT Beast is the Charity Challenge Race again (Hope more of my NES brethren can join us again for that yellow medal!). If I’m not wearing my FamilyReach/Reach Athlete shirt I’m wearing my NESpahten with MaReachAthlete on the back. Anyway, when you see my boys & I please say “Hi”, shout out a hearty “AROO” or a big and loud “WEEEPPPAAAAAAA” (a Puertorican variation of Woohoo). Feel free to follow me on Instagram/Twitter @Ma_HonorFirst. See you soon!
4 thoughts on “Spahten Stories: Myrna (MaReachAthlete) Velez”
Thank you for the inspiration to myself and all!
I knew you when you were just a girl. You are such an amazing person and I just want to tell you how proud I am of you. Thank you for sharing your article.
God Bless You! What a beautiful story to share, thank you!
Weeeeeppppaaaaa… just read your article and want to say, "you are a heck of a lady". Thank you for your kind thoughts about my Johnny… this is a difficult time for me and reading your story brings me great joy. I send you and your boys my love and prayers.