Milla Bizzotto was being bullied by her classmates when she was in second grade, but when she began taking self-defense and boxing classes, the taunts from other kids stopped fazing her.
“Bullying was a very real thing in her life,” her father Christian, 37, tells PEOPLE. “As she started to believe in herself, as she became more empowered, the bullying ended. She became so powerful inside that she wasn’t affected by any words or actions by any of the kids at school anymore.”
Milla, now 9, had tagged along with Christian to the obstacle course races he coached athletes for, and decided she wanted to participate in them herself. Thanks to her training, she found herself overqualified to compete with kids her own age.
“The kids’ obstacle races were no challenge for her,” says Christian. “She wanted to push herself a little more.”
In November, Milla ran her first BattleFrog obstacle race, and went on to compete in a Spartan race as well. Earlier this month, she competed in the first ever BattleFrog Xtreme 24-hour race, a rigorous obstacle course race that takes place over an entire day. To prepare for the race, Milla trained five days a week for at least three hours a day.
On race day, Milla ran 35.9 miles, and completed 26 obstacles. She placed 19th out of all the women, despite being in a race intended for people 18 and older. She hopes her accomplishment will help other kids overcome bullying.
“I don’t want people to quit because they don’t believe in themselves, because someone else says that they can believe in themselves,” she told CBS Miami.
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Christian says Milla’s fight against bullying is her main motivation to compete.
“Her message is a big driving force for her,” he says. “That’s what keeps her from not quitting, from not slowing down, from not stopping. She’s super determined.”