Don’t Tell Jocelyn Rivas What She Can’t Do
After becoming the youngest adult to run 100 marathons, she’s chasing even bigger running goals and helping fellow Dreamers and young women realize their own potential
Presented in partnership with Under Armour as part of the Limitless series
When Jocelyn Rivas set a goal to be the youngest Latina to run 100 marathons—a record she established at age 24—she had no idea her dream would take on a life of its own. Once she crossed the finish line for her 100th marathon on November 7, 2021, Rivas became not only the youngest Latina to complete 100 marathons but also the youngest female and youngest adult to accomplish this feat—three records she still holds today. “When I first started, I was just going for the youngest Latina to run 100 marathons. I didn’t know about the other records,” says Rivas. As she started working toward her initial goal, however, the running community caught wind of her ambitions and encouraged her to aim even higher. In 2019, the L.A. Marathon reached out in partnership with Guinness World Records. The organizers let Rivas know she had the opportunity to break the other two records. “I was like, ‘Oh no, I have to change my whole plan,’” Rivas says.
Rivas did the math. She’d have to accelerate her marathon schedule drastically to break the additional two records. Instead of running six marathons a year over about 16 years, Rivas would need to condense the timeline down to two years. It was a crazy dream, but it wasn’t impossible—certainly not compared to other obstacles she’d overcome in her life.
Born with a broken back, legs, and feet, Rivas came into the world with physical disadvantages—at least that’s what her family believed. Despite making a full recovery as a baby, Rivas internalized those birth defects for much of the early part of her life. “I always thought I was limited,” she says.
Rivas immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador with her sister at the age of six. “The first thing I noticed when I came to the U.S. was the floor. You guys have cement and there it’s all rocks. That was me as a six-year-old thinking, ‘OK, I’m somewhere new. I’m no longer in El Salvador.’” Although the U.S. provided a life Rivas and her family could not have had in El Salvador, Rivas grew up knowing there were still many opportunities she would not be afforded as an immigrant. “My mom always told me very young, ‘You are going to be working double or triple to get the same opportunities as everyone else,’” says Rivas. “She ingrained in my head that I would need to work hard, but since I didn’t have citizenship my dreams were limited.”
Rivas’s world opened up with the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as undocumented children to attend college and obtain work permits. “I remember watching the T.V. when Obama made the announcement about DACA,” says Rivas. Even as a teen, she understood the program had the power to change the trajectory of her life. “I spent most of my childhood thinking I wouldn’t be able to go to college or get a good job or dream of a better future. DACA made it possible for me to do those things and to have big goals.”
Running wasn’t the first goal added to Rivas’s list, however. “Growing up, I never had anyone to look up to in regard to sports or running,” says Rivas, whose initial foray into running was part of the one-mile P.E. requirement for high school. Like many Latino immigrant families, Rivas’s mother was more focused on making ends meet than extracurriculars, so sports were never a priority. “Latinos tend to work a lot. They make a lot of sacrifices to provide for their kids,” says Rivas.
It wasn’t until high school, when Rivas was connected with Students Run L.A., a program that supports underserved youth by providing training and mentorship through running, that she found the passion that set these dreams in motion. With support from Students Run L.A., Rivas trained for and ran the L.A. Marathon—her first of many. As she crossed the finish line, Rivas wasn’t met by cheering family members the way many runners were. “My mom was always worried about me for medical reasons,” Rivas says. “Every single day she would tell me to stop running. When you’re young you want to have someone tell you to keep going, but for me it was the opposite.”
Instead of being discouraged by the lack of support, however, Rivas used it to fuel her running ambitions and pave the way for other Latina runners. “For me it’s all about representation. I want to represent Dreamers, Latinas, women, and girls. Throughout my journey of running 100 marathons, so many people told me, ‘You’re too young’ or ‘You’re going to injure your body.’ There were so many people telling me to stop, but I just kept going. I felt like we needed it.”
Looking forward, Rivas is already dreaming about the next big thing. She recently ran her first 50-mile race, the Mt. Hood 50. Rivas is also mentoring young runners in the L.A. area to give the next generation the support system she didn’t have as a young Latina and Dreamer in the running world. “I want to show girls like me—other Latinas—that they can be like me and do what I do,” Rivas says. But mostly, Rivas continues to run to get the most out of life—the life she once scarcely imagined having. “I run because I know there are people out there who don’t have the opportunity to run or can’t run,” she says. “I realized I’m living. I’m a living human being, and I really want to maximize my life the most I can. I find I can do that through running.”
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