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Vanessa Foerster: The Start Line

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Vanessa riding her bike through the rolling hills of Chattanooga. Photo by FinisherPix
Vanessa riding her bike through the rolling hills of Chattanooga. Photo by FinisherPix

Written by Tamia Santiago

“Who I was before multisport was…you know, this scraggly kid trying to find a place in the world,” said Vanessa Foerster, a Kona qualified triathlete. Vanessa was an average kid hopping from sport to sport every season not really knowing where she fit in. “I was just kind of floating and really didn’t belong anywhere because I didn’t try to.” It was the commitment factor that she lacked when it came to joining sports. She joked about how she’d stay just long enough to get her feet wet and move on to the next. In high school, Vanessa associated herself with the nerdy group of kids, and she loved it. This was her identity. Consequently, activities like speech and debate took up most of her time, and she didn’t feel like much of an athlete. However, things changed after high school.

“I decided– I can’t even tell you where it came from– I just decided ‘you know what I want to become an athlete’. I want to play a sport in college.” Freshman Vanessa Foerster found herself pondering between flag football and rowing shortly after becoming a student at the University of Georgia. She chose rowing and this was her beginning. It was the sport that structured her foundation in becoming an athlete. The workouts were grueling, and rowing was something she had to make time for. She was an accounting major balancing finals and double workout schedules, but even then, she remembered the sun rising over the water in the early mornings.

“It really allowed me to find out more of who I was. It was the challenge that I needed.”

Vanessa’s first Ironman finish in Arizona 2011. Photo by FinisherPix

More challenges arose as Vanessa naively went into her first triathlon. “There is so much beauty in being a beginner. I had no idea,” Vanessa said humorously. She made all the mistakes. Mistake number one was using a bike with gears and having no idea how to use them. “I got into the parking lot to go into transition, and there was a steep hill. There’s this guy who’s a Marshall at the bottom and he’s like ‘Shift down, shift down!’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know what you mean! What does that mean?!’” In conclusion, she burned a lot of energy on the first hill and took these mistakes as lessons that would later make her successful.

When coming across the question of when did you become the athlete you wanted to be?

Vanessa said she was still learning. “While I love who I am, love the progress I’ve made, and I love the athlete I’ve become, in the same breath I could easily say I can always get more out of me.” Vanessa went on to add she felt herself becoming closer to that athlete when she stopped hoping for the best out of her races and made it a reality within her training. In 2018, she started doing personal development work. Mental endurance became her new focus and tool used for races. This is a technique that she now coaches to other athletes.

So, what exactly was your motivation for becoming a mental endurance coach?

Vanessa’s first Kona qualification after placing 2nd in Women’s 30-34. Photo by her husband

“I am my first athlete. I always do the work on myself before I coach other people to do it. When I took that year and blew my own mind… I said other people need this.” That year, using the tool of her mind, Vanessa placed 2nd overall in her age group and qualified for Kona as an underdog with zero Ironman podiums. Kona is the Ironman World Championship held in Hawaii that only 2% of triathletes, who tried out, qualify for. “I felt that more athletes need to feel this way. More athletes need to feel in control of the results that they have, and I want to show them how.” Vanessa has a podcast called Train Your Mind Podcast where she shares consulting advice on mental endurance. Her goal for her publications is to empower the larger audience of athletes who may be out of reach. “I would love for people to have transformations in their lives even if they don’t ever speak to me,” Vanessa added.

Where exactly did Varlo fit into your journey?

“It became an important part of my journey last year to pay attention to where I’m investing my money and what companies are benefiting from my dollar. How do they show up in the world and what do they represent?” Vanessa felt like Varlo was all over social media. Specifically, Instagram where her curiosity led her down a rabbit hole, and she discovered Varlo was a Black-owned multisport apparel company. More importantly, it was a company with similar values to her own.

“I realized that one of their mottos is the best way to predict your future is to create it. That is literally what I do. It’s like it was meant to be.” Vanessa added that it is the people and energy at Varlo that influenced her decision to become a brand ambassador today. When asked what separates Varlo from competing brands that want athletes like you to represent them, she answered, “The people behind the brand.” She talks about the friendship with Founder, Soj

Jibowu, that drew her in and the vision that overrides the Italian fabrics. “I care about the people. I care about what it stands for, that’s what matters to me, that’s what I feel like I’m representing. Italian fabrics, cool. The people, way more important to me.”

Vanessa’s value of people led to a passion project of hers called DTM. Diversify Triathlon Movement, DTM, aims to help bridge the disparity of Black and Brown bodies in the multisport world. Her goal is to make the transition for beginner adult triathletes more welcoming by changing the landscape and diversifying the start line. Vanessa believes her personal career plays a role in her movement as well. “It is one of my goals to be an example of what’s possible with anyone who relates to any part of my story, and one easy way to see that is the color of my skin. If you don’t see it, you don’t think you can be it. And I don’t know how many people of color qualified for Kona, but I’m pretty sure it’s this many,” Vanessa explained as she pinched her fingers together. There’s not a lot.

St. George race 2021: Vanessa climbing Snow Canyon. Photo by Justin Luau
St. George race 2021: Vanessa climbing Snow Canyon. Photo by Justin Luau

Currently, she continues to be an inspiration to those seeking ways to improve their mental endurance and becoming the athlete they want to be. Vanessa’s final thoughts to readers were,

“Every single one of us has the opportunity to create the experience that we want to have in life, on and off the race course. We can make a different choice or keep making the same choices, but there’s always a choice. Our lives come down to the choices we make and that is the best news ever.”

2 Responses

  1. Janyah
    | Reply

    Amazing piece

  2. Cort Musolf
    | Reply

    Great read and perspective. Love hearing how people got to where they are today and how they keep learning by doing! I’m a big Vanessa fan!

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