Recovering from Injury
with Vanessa Fraser
11 Oct, 2022 · Running
In this week’s episode, we are talking with VIS League Mentor, professional runner for Nike and Stanford alumna, Vanessa Fraser, speaks about how she recovered from her double Achilles surgery, and how she pursues her audaciously big goals!
Guest: Vanessa Fraser
Playing the Long Game in Distance Running, Injury Recovery, & Advocating for Yourself with Coaches
[00:00:00] Stef: Today we are talking with professional runner, and Stanford alum, Vanessa Fraser. Vanessa graduated from Stanford in 2018 as a 10 time all-American and school record holder in the 5,000 meter. Along with many athletic successes, she has also undergone a very difficult surgery on both of Hercules tendons and is now coming back stronger than ever.
Vanessa is an amazing part of the voice and sport community as a VIS League mentor, where she leads discussions on injury recovery, and dealing with disappointing athletic performances. Today, Vanessa speaks about why she chose Stanford:
[00:00:41] Vanessa: seeing Stanford athletes on TV at a young age really made me want to become that.
[00:00:47] Stef: the connections between startups and professional sports:
[00:00:51] Vanessa: I think having the understanding as an athlete of what it feels like to have a big dream and a vision, and then getting to be a tiny part in someone else's dream, knowing what that felt like was really fulfilling and really exciting.
[00:01:06] Stef: and how to recover from injury by making bite sized goals:
[00:01:11] Vanessa: If I had been too eager to achieve those things on day one, I would've lost sight of all the small steps that needed to happen in the process and in the interim.
[00:01:25] Stef: Before we get started, if you'd like to support this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast and Spotify. Vanessa, welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast.
[00:01:36] Vanessa: Thank you. Excited to be here.
[00:01:39] Stef: well, I'm excited to start with just your career and how you started and running way back when you were eight years old. So, you know, and they, a lot of times athletes that come on the podcast do multiple sports or, you know, it's always so interesting just to know, like the background and how you got started.
So when can you remember your very first time going out on a.
[00:02:02] Vanessa: So formally, I started with girls on the run in third grade at age eight, like you mentioned. But I think I remember, you know, in kindergarten, sometimes our class would go out and run a lap and I'd run around with my friends at recess. I was really into horses. So that was another sport that I did growing up was horseback riding, but we would pretend to be horses and use our whole recess running around pretending to be horses.
So a lot of like fun kind of playful memories of getting into running, and then, you know, formally with girls on the run, it, the program prepares you to run a 5k at the end of a 10 week session. So that was my first experience with like an organized, formal running event. But I really kind of dabbled and.
A lot of different sports and found out that I wasn't very oriented toward ball sports. I think I got in my like soccer club, I got the dainty runner award, cuz I would run around the field with my hands out to the side you know, I just, yeah, I, I had the running part down, but I, I didn't really wanna have any ball contact.
I don't think so, yeah, but I I did horseback riding gymnastics, a little bit of tennis skiing. So yeah, dabbled around with a lot of different activities.
[00:03:29] Stef: I love it. Well, the program that you started with girls on the run is a great program. They have a really cool mission to keep girls or really to get girls into the sport at that like early, early age, and then help build their confidence and doing it through like a SI like a, an achievable goal with the 5k at the end of of the course.
So I think it's a really great program. You went on to actually coach for girls on the run in high school. So what lessons did you, did you teach, you know, do you remember what you taught those young girls and at that critical age, if, when they're so young and just starting.
[00:04:04] Vanessa: mm-hmm yeah, well, I just learned so much through the program myself. So in becoming a coach, you know, later when I was in high school, I really just wanted to impart those lessons on younger girls because of how much value it had provided me. And there's kind of two sides of it. There's the running and sports side of it, where you really learn the power of goal setting and you learn that working hard for something is fun and you know, and kind of addicting to track your progress over the course of not only weeks or months, but then coming back the next year and, and seeing if you can keep improving on what you did the previous year.
So that whole kind of addiction to the process and getting better, but seeing it as a really fun thing and seeing running as a really fun thing and a You know, fun sort of light, healthy competition as well. But then there's the other side too, where they, the program teaches all these different, both physical and emotional health lessons.
And some of the lessons were really impactful before going into middle school. Like literally learning how to stand up for yourself and how to properly approach conflict resolution and how to think positively and confidently about yourself and building your self esteem and all of those things, which.
You know, kind of are fostered through sport already, but then having these real objective lessons about it and practicing through activities with other young girls it's, it's really impactful. So I just wanted to share that with the younger community and found it really rewarding to give back to the program that had given so much to me when I was younger.
[00:05:59] Stef: I love that. Well, and you hit on something that's pretty near and dear to our heart at voice and sport, which is building confidence. So, you know, you, how do you think after all your years now, you know, you've been starting in the program when you're really young, all the way up to Stanford, then pro to where you are now.
How has confidence like played a role throughout your whole career and how do you build it as a young women?
[00:06:25] Vanessa: I think I have, as I've gotten older through sport, I have a lot to learn from the girls on the run program itself. And I have a lot to learn from my younger self. I always say this, like a lot of people ask, you know, what advice would you give your younger self? And I actually think my younger self has a lot of advice to give my older self.
And as I've kind of gone up in the ranks with running and the stakes, I've gotten higher, I've needed to learn those lessons more and more on how to find confidence because in college, but especially as a pro to again, as the bar just keeps getting higher you tend to look for confidence more and more in your achievements and.
In girls on the run and in my younger years of running, but especially in girls on the run, that's, that's not how you foster confidence and that's not how it's really taught. It's more about you know, traits within yourself that are not dependent on what you achieve on the track or what your result is in a race.
It's really about, you know, what kind of teammate you are how you talk to yourself in a positive way. And it turns out if you're a really supportive friend and teammate. And if you are, you know, noticing things about yourself that you love, that have to do with how you approach things like, wow, you know, I worked really hard today.
That was awesome. Or I had this big setback and I bounced back the next day. And I, that showed a lot of resilience. That's kind of how you foster confidence in general, but that was the focus, you know, in girls on the run. And so it's something that I really try to remember as a pro when it's so easy to find confidence from winning races or reaching a certain level in the sport.
And the reality is, is like, those achievements are never ending and there's like always the next thing that you're gonna keep seeking. And so if you are seeking, you know, external things to give you confidence, it's it's kind of a never ending loop. And, and so again, just going back to what I learned back in girls on the run is you know, it's, it's finding it with your, within yourself, no matter how you're performing.
[00:08:53] Stef: I love that. I also love that you shine light on, like, we can learn so much from our younger selves. , you know, even with what we're doing at voice and sport with our advocacy program is like, we're, we're leading with the young girls at the center because there's so much that like policy makers can learn from the experiences that these girls are having today.
So I think it's so important. And you also touched on something too, that I feel like as later in life athletes, we go back to, which is finding the fun again and finding the joy, because you mentioned it, you started playing basically horseback riding, running around, chasing each other in, in school, and then it was fun, right?
Like sport was fun. It was enjoyable. But often we lose that joy. And so I'm just wondering in your own career. How did you get yourself back to like finding that joy? If you found yourself in a place where you're like, it wasn't fun anymore.
[00:09:50] Vanessa: yeah. You know, it it's a continuous battle. It's so interesting. I've thought about this a lot in the last few years, as a pro and had a lot of conversations with my teammate, Elise cranny, who's obviously a, a big member of the vis community. And when you are a professional runner, it's what you're, you know, your whole world is centered around.
You're not in school anymore. So you don't have, you know, different things and academics to distract you, which is great, cuz it means you can, you know, really try to see how good you can be by pouring all your energy into this one thing. But you know, when that's your whole focus, again, going back to like how results can sometimes feel like that dictates your confidence.
I also think that that can sometimes dictate your joy. And if you just aren't thinking about it, aren't putting any effort into it. I would say naturally what happens is if you are doing really well and crushing it and , you know, achieving your goals or coming close to your goals and having some form of success on a regular basis, it's easy to feel joyful.
it's so easy to, to feel like this is so much fun, cuz naturally like doing well and winning is fun, I guess. And you know, when things are conversely not going well, then it's really hard to, to feel joyful again, especially when it's your whole world and you just don't naturally have a lot of outlets to lean on or to necessarily garner joy from if you're not actively trying.
So, I mean, I think it's hard. I think that that's sort of, again like the natural tendency to happen as a pro and you know, that can happen at any level too, even in high school and college. Although I think personally for me, it was easier because I always enjoyed pouring myself into other things and remembering that, you know, at the end of the day, it's just running and that helped me have balance and perspective.
And then in turn have more joy with running. So I think it's, it's having the perspective that there's a bigger world outside of sport and that as much as it feels like it really matters in the moment, it it, it kind of doesn't and that you are doing it, you know, hopefully for fun at the end of the day.
So I guess having that perspective and then just really focusing on interim goals and interim progress and kind of creating a reward system for yourself. And this is something I've talked about with injury recovery, cuz that's a really easy example of like when you're kind of down and out and things aren't going well and you're obviously not able to compete and you're not able to find joy through success.
And it's, it's kind of like tricking your neurochemistry into having these little hits of dopamine because like a lot of rewards are kind of external and you have to create internal rewards for yourself. And if you create these internal rewards and your own kind of Metro success, which could be as simple as again, talking about my injury recovery, which I'm sure we'll get into more.
You know my goal for tomorrow is to simply. Walk 10 steps. You know, I'm in two walking boots and I just wanna walk 10 steps and to really make that an intentional goal. And to really celebrate that goal, you actually are literally having a neurochemical benefit in your brain. The joy is coming from your brain. So sometimes it's just like tricking your own psychology. And it's not even a trick. It's realizing again that a lot of things that we think are gonna create joy are coming from external sources, telling us that winning or achieving this one thing is gonna bring you happiness.
And it's not so, or it might temporarily, but obviously there's other ways to create joy and you have to find a way to do that for yourself.
[00:14:04] Zosia Bulhak: Thank you for listening to the voice in support podcast. My name is Zosia Bulhak and I am the producer of this voice and support podcast episode. I run track and cross country at the university of Houston. I love working with voice and support in order to empower young girls and women in sports. And I would love it if you would join us in trying to make it to.
Go follow us on Instagram tick-tock and Twitter at voices, port for more amazing content, you can also sign up for free and join our community of female athletes. Uh, voice in support.com for mentorship, sports, content and inspiration. Thanks.
[00:14:39] Stef: Absolutely. I think it's so important. I mean, what you talked about is also really related to back to confidence too, and like, you know, don't look to other people to find your confidence. It's that's like kind of the detriment of social media, right. That we just have to be really careful of. Don't look to those outside resources to give you what you need internally.
I don't know if you ever struggled with body confidence but that's also one of the things we're trying to talk about at Voice in Sport a lot is like, try not to compare yourself to other people. It can be really hard to do when you're a competitive person and your, mindset of competition on the track.
You don't wanna take that off the track and compare yourself to others, but it can be hard. So did you have any challenges yourself early on in younger years in that? And what advice would you have to the girls today that might be faced with some of those challenges?
[00:15:31] Vanessa: You know, I was pretty fortunate that I didn't struggle significantly with that. I did have a diagnosis of Red S when I was a freshman in high school, I was, you know, grew straight up and not out at all. And I was pretty underweight and kind of undereducated about fueling needs, not only as an athlete, but as a young athlete, you know, age 14 to 15, where my body's really growing and has increasing demands on top of, you know, becoming a high school athlete and training harder and running more.
So I would attribute it more to kind of like under education, but I ended up having to sit out my entire freshman high school track season in order to gain enough weight, to be at a healthy body mass index. And I'm super fortunate and lucky that I had doctors that kind of intervened and recognized that because again, I just wasn't educated and my parents weren't educated and I'm genetically thin.
So there wasn't awareness. And I feel like nowadays, hopefully there is more awareness and attention on how important getting on top of your health at that age. As far as like nutrition and fueling and being at a healthy weight, I think it's come a long way. But I think whether it's struggling with body positivity or any other sort of comparison or confidence, like it does all come down to the same thing which is recognizing that everybody is super unique and different and everybody needs really different things. And you have to like learn how to be the best version of yourself, which could look very different than someone else. And also knowing that, that what you see on social media is not real.
So , that's a whole, a whole nother topic, of course, but I, I know that that just, that just adds fuel to the fire of comparison and maybe struggling with body confidence or any type of confidence.
[00:17:45] Stef: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think this is a, this is a topic that unfortunately isn't talked about enough, which is why at Voice in Sport we have sessions on red S we also have the podcast with Elise Cranny, where she talked about her experience with red S and it's really common for young women, especially runners.
So when you, when you think back to those years where you did have the signals in high school, what were some of the signals that you recognized, or your doctors or parents recognized as potential problems that you were maybe under fueling.
[00:18:19] Vanessa: Well, I physically did look very, very thin and just the numbers showed, you know, my BMI was extremely low. My weight to height ratio, and I think I had a really low heart rate, which you know, with all these different, like tracking devices these days and the different ideas of health metrics, I think that that can maybe be a trap for young athletes thinking that like a super low heart rate is really healthy and good, and it means you're fit.
And you know, my resting heart rate now is not as low as it was when 13. And I'm obviously a lot more of a capable and strong athlete. And so actually I think that was one of the biggest signals for them was that my resting heart rate was pretty low. I know there's, there's a lot of different signals like I hadn't started menstruating yet, so I didn't have that as you know, something to gauge off of. But once I did, I had, I've had a regular period, pretty much my whole adult life, except for maybe like skipping one or two months. So once that started, obviously that has been a one really helpful, useful metric. And I would say, now I have a lot of metrics that I use to make sure I'm feeling enough, even if I am getting a regular period, sometimes I struggle with just a naturally super fast metabolism. And again, here's a great example of everybody being so different and I'm living at altitude camp with other high level athletes and we all have very different fueling needs.
So if I'm eating exactly the same, that another athlete is that might not be the right amount for me or the right thing for me. So again, being really aware of my signals, like just feeling extra fatigued, or sometimes even the ironic effect that happens is like, your appetite starts to get a little bit suppressed if you're under fueling.
So if I kind of feel myself getting tired during a meal or kind of wanting to stop eating. It's not out of fullness. It's because like, oh, I might be in a little bit of an under fueling hole. So things like that, that I've really like developed an awareness of over the years as well. Has been helpful as, as well as obviously like getting that regular period is very important.
[00:20:43] Stef: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and thank you for sharing that because I, I think it's important to your story and your journey because you ended up going to Stanford and walking on there and then becoming a 10 time All-American. But if we just back up to your high school experience, you sat out your freshman and sophomore year.
So I think it is really important for young girls to hear that like you took care of yourself and your body, and that actually enabled you to have this like incredible career later. So I, I wanna talk a little bit about that transition because, you know, first of all, why did you decide to go to Stanford and walk on when you probably could have gone some other places?
Let's talk about that. And, and then I really wanna dive deep into that experience of walking on to, to a really incredible program. I'm sure it was a tough decision to go there, but maybe bring us back to those, you know, junior year in a high school. When you finished recovering from red S and you started thinking about, okay, what do I wanna do in college?
[00:21:47] Vanessa: mm-hmm so, well, first of all, I only had to sit out my freshman track season. So I was back by sophomore year. I just wanna clarify that. But I had a dream to go to Stanford from a very young age, probably around when I started running in Girls on the Run at age eight and. Part of that was, I grew up 45 minutes away from Stanford.
And I had an older cousin who played football there in the late nineties. So I grew up going to football games at Stanford and my dad went to Stanford and was a big Stanford sports fan. So there would always be Stanford football, basketball, volleyball, all the games going on, on TV as a kid. So I think I sort of got enamored by, you know, Stanford is an amazing place, but who knows wherever I may have grown up, if that's what I'd been exposed to, then that would've been the school that I would've become obsessed with.
Which I think leads into an interesting point. Media representation, and the things you see as a kid have a huge impact. And, then we could get into a whole topic of, of seeing women's sports on TV. But the point is seeing Stanford athletes on TV at a young age really made me want to become that.
And I thought that looks so cool. Obviously, I hadn't really put the pieces together of like maybe becoming a runner there. I was still exploring other sports, but by the time I got to middle school, I went to a Stanford cross country camp and they had real live Stanford athletes there as the counselors.
And then that really became, like, I looked up to them so much. I wanna be that so bad one day. So going into high school, even I knew I wanna go to Stanford and I wanna run at Stanford one day. And I also wanna you know, put an asterisks on the word, walk on. I was technically a preferred walk on, which means I did get kind of like help with my application so I had a pink slip on my application, so that meant that, that I was gonna have a spot on the team and that they were interested in me, but I wasn't gonna get any scholarship money and I didn't get actively recruited by them.
So when I was a junior in high school, I reached out to the Stanford coach at the time and kind of made a sales pitch for myself and, and said that I was really interested in joining the team. And at that point I hadn't really done anything yet to prove that I could be on the team, but I did end up winning a state title my junior year in cross country division four state of California.
And I think that at least put me in the conversation of being on the team, but the caliber of athletes at Stanford was recruiting were so high, like, you know, ranked nationally caliber athletes. And I was good, but definitely not that like five star national caliber. So again, just wanna put that caveat that I was, you know, semi recruited, but it meant preferred walk on means zero scholarship money.
And I did, you know, have offers to go to other schools on scholarship money. But for me, I had this vision of going to Stanford and I'm super happy that it worked out. I think that was the first, you know, real experience on a large scale in my life of like, oh, I had this vision for myself for 10 years, pretty much.
And I saw it come to fruition and that's an amazing thing. But I also think that. It's so interesting because for a while I had this idea that like, if you do have a vision like that for yourself, for such a long time, like you can speak it into existence, you can manifest it. If you, you know, put your mind to whatever it is, you can achieve it.
And that is sometimes true. And I, and I had that experience with, with making that reality of going to Stanford. But I also have later in my career experience, like having a big goal and a vision and it not coming to fruition. And I always wonder like, you know, what, if they hadn't wanted me on the team, what if I hadn't gotten in you know, I would've been so disappointed and I maybe would've learned that lesson sooner, but I think my point is, is like, that was an amazing experience and I'm so glad it worked out, but That wasn't the only path to having success and that wasn't the only good outcome.
And if it hadn't worked out, I'm sure I would've been happy somewhere else too. And, and yeah, my point is just that , I don't necessarily think it's healthy to have these narratives put out there all the time that like, if you have this big dream, you can make it a reality. And I think it's important to have a big dream, but it's also important to realize like sometimes it doesn't work out.
So I don't want my story to be like this, you know, this hallmark picture of, manifesting where you wanna go to college. And that's the only way to do it.
[00:27:08] Stef: Yeah. I mean, I think you're making a great point because obviously we want all girls to be dreaming big about, , their goals, both in sport and out of sport, but it's okay to realize that like the journey to get there might actually take you on another course to another goal. or you might end up achieving your goal, but like in a completely different way.
Right. And you really only get that sort of perspective once you've been in it for a lot longer. And, you know, to your point, like you had this 10 year run of like, thinking about going to Stanford, and then you emailed the coach and then you, you went anyway and gave up scholarships other places and you got there, I guess I'm just kind of curious, like when you got there in that moment, when you're like stepping on to, you know, your first practice with the team, definitely an underdog kind of moment. What was that like?
[00:28:02] Vanessa: It was. Not a let down at all. It was amazing. I was honestly, well, I was there for five years, but even up through the fifth year, I would walk around pinching myself. I would, there would be moments on the track where I'd be working out with the team, just being like so grateful and you know really feeling like I was living out my dream.
So that was really special. And I think, yeah, kind of being that underdog was a huge blessing for me because I wouldn't say I ever had a mentality of like, oh, I'm, I'm just happy to be here. Right. Like, I'm just happy to be on the team. Like I've made it right. But it was the perfect balance of like, I'm so happy to be here.
And now that I'm here, There are more doors open and there's more, you know, now I have this amazing opportunity to see how good I can be as a collegiate athlete. And now that I'm a pro I've realized what a special balance that is like, I think that is the sweet spot to be in as an athlete where you're really excited to be in the position that you're in, but also really hungry to see what you can do now that you've been given this opportunity.
And and that's part of the appeal of, of joining a really successful team. Like that was part of the reason why I wanted to join Bowerman was kind of that feeling at Stanford where I'm like, wow, I can't believe I'm here. And look at these people around me and, you know, I wanna be like them one day. And I think that, that, yeah, it just propelled me to kind of. Continue to be grateful, but also continue to push and, and see where I could go. You know, throughout those five years
[00:29:50] Stef: Yeah, I love that. I think that's such an insightful comment for anybody, regardless of where they're at in their journey to having that balance. It's like, you wanna be confident, but you don't wanna be like over cocky, you know, you, you wanna have like that swagger, but not too much. So I think that's a really great, a really great comment.
And when you were there at Stanford for your five years, looking back now, you know, our vis community is made up of high school and college athletes. They're living it right now, right? Division one, division three, all of the different divisions. What advice would you have for the girls that are in it today that maybe now that you're looking back as a pro you're like, wow, I really wish I would've either enjoyed this a little bit more or potentially tweaked a little bit of like how you approached or showed up.
What would your advice be to the girls today in college?
[00:30:41] Vanessa: I really wouldn't change a thing about how I approached it. I think that again, kind of having that underdog mentality helped me starting out. So I would say like anybody who goes into college in the earlier years feeling like they have something to prove and they wanna show that they belong on that level.
And I think being patient really helped me. So I would say just like having that patience and long gain mindset, which again I had in high school and that really helped me as well. And then I think I did a really good job, especially my freshman year fostering balance for myself. And going back to our conversation about joy, like that allowed running to continue to feel really joyful to me, cuz it was.
Not my everything. And I, I want that to sound bad in that I didn't pour a lot into it, but I really had created a community at school outside of running that I found joy and fulfillment in. And I, you know, enjoyed school and worked hard in school, but at the same time did a good job at like prioritizing sleep and recovery.
So I had a good balance of like enjoying things outside, running, but not letting it detract from running. And I think that's a big key too. And then as I went throughout college, I would say became, you know, a little more and more focused and maybe a little less social outside of running. But I think in those younger years, especially.
Leaning into that balance and finding it is really healthy. And then like, you know, over the years kind of figuring out what works for you and where your priorities lie, whether it's, you know, becoming more and more serious about running or you know, finding other passions that I saw a lot of other athletes on the team do and, and knowing that that's okay too.
[00:32:40] Stef: Well, you had a, you got a degree in management, science and engineering. So what are your passions outside of sport? Are they still engineering?
[00:32:48] Vanessa: I think being in Silicon valley, there's, you know, this big startup culture and there's a fascination around technology and innovation, and we would have different guest speakers coming in from various industries in the valley. And I always found that really interesting and I found Such an interesting connection between entrepreneurship and sport, especially running in the sense that it's this really long game and this fascination with the long game of having a dream or a vision, and then literally putting years and years into it and having that super long term gratification and you know, the resilience that has to come with it and, and problem solving.
And so, yeah, I think just a fascination with entrepreneurship. Given the geographic location, but also the connection to sport. And I did a couple summer internships in college, in the venture capital space. And so that's kind of another way I got exposed to startups. And I really liked that too, because it was kind of getting to play a small role in other people's dreams and getting to help them in a small way.
And I think having the understanding as an athlete of what it feels like to have a big dream and a vision, and then getting to you know, again, especially as a summer intern, like very small role, but getting to be a tiny part in someone else's dream, knowing what that felt like was really yeah, really fulfilling and really exciting.
[00:34:34] Stef: Well, now you're a big part of our voice and sport community. And my dream is an entrepreneur. So thank you.
[00:34:41] Vanessa: Yes.
[00:34:43] Stef: you have been an incredible mentor on our platform and a great role model for the girls in the community. So now it all kind of makes sense. I didn't even know that about your background.
And I love that.
[00:34:53] Vanessa: yeah, yeah, It's fun to be a part of building something so it's cool to be a small part.
[00:35:00] Stef: like you said, it's a, it's the long game, right? It's not easy to be an entrepreneur. It's definitely different than working at big companies. And I've been where you're now sponsored. I've been at Nike and it's just fundamentally different, right. Building something from the bottom up versus like coming in and continuing something, both great experiences, both very different
But relating back to like your sport journey with this, too. I think by the end of your, your, I would say your first big dream, right? Attending college at Stanford and running for that team, you had immense success. I mean, you were a 10 time all American, you had the Stanford record for the 5,000 meter.
And had two runner up finishes in the distance mixed relay. So if you think back, what do you think are the three keys to your success?
[00:35:50] Vanessa: I think actually things that have already naturally been touched on, I would attribute as the main keys which would be the first playing the long game and having patience. I think. If I had been too eager to achieve those things on day one, I would've lost sight of all the small steps that needed to happen in the process and in the interim.
And so, you know, part of playing the long game and having patience is, again, something I touched on earlier is the ability to set those smaller bite size goals, to create that internal reward system for yourself that tells yourself like I'm on the right path. I'm doing great. You know, I made this step forward.
That puts me a little bit better than I was last. Week last month, last year, you know, and being able to measure those small steps. So that's all kind of part of the long game and having patience, being able to see the smaller step by step process. And then I would say the second thing would be having fun.
again, finding that joy is so important. And I think being a part of a team also makes it easier to find that joy and, and the bond of your teammates, especially in college is unlike anything else. I still, probably like my closest friends in the entire world are my college teammates. I just got to see some of them over the weekend.
Cuz one of them is having a baby and it was her baby shower and there are no other people in the world that make me laugh as hard as they do. And so I think, yeah, just that bond with the teammates. It's so special and something I'll cherish forever. So really like remembering how special those people are and having fun with them.
And that helps obviously bring joy to the process. And then the third thing, another thing I just talked about would be the balance piece and, feeling like a whole and complete human outside of your sport, feeling like you're successful outside of your sport and that you're a good teammate and good friend, but you're also, you know, giving your best in school and with whatever you're doing and that ends up making you feel like, or at least for me, made me feel more confident and powerful when I stepped on the track.
[00:38:18] Stef: I love it. Well, it feels like those three things are gonna continue on to like what you've been doing now as part of the Bowerman track club, because you joined one of the best groups in the world filled with incredible women. So what was the process of transitioning outta Stanford and joining the Bowerman track club?
And, and why did you choose that team to join?
[00:38:40] Vanessa: I think it was very similar to me wanting to go to Stanford and kind of how that process looked too, which was that I kind of recruited myself in a way. I reached out to Jerry, our coach at Bowerman. I reached out to Nike and that is something I would say is one of my strengths is that I really know how to, and, and am comfortable advocating for myself.
And that's been something that's helped me a lot throughout my running career, whether it was yeah, like reaching out to join the team. But again, just like reaching out anytime I need anything. And so I would say I just, you know, pitch them my vision of you know, I, I wanna, I wanna do this at the top level and I wanna do it with people who are, who are doing it at the top level, and there's no better way to do it than to surround yourself with those people and learn from the best and be pushed by the best.
So again, it was kind of like, I'm sure there could have been something else that would've been equally amazing, but I, similar to Stanford had like this set vision of like, this is what I wanna do. And yeah, I looked up to Bowman a lot. They had had a lot of success and seemed like they have a really good group and it's evolved and changed so much over the four years that I've been here, but it's continued to, you know, have so much success and great people who are a part of it.
And so Yeah, as hard as it has been for me personally, being around the people that I've gotten to be around has been an incredible experience.
[00:40:24] Stef: Well, I have to ask because I feel like the girls will wanna know this. So I don't know if you can remember, but what was your pitch like when you're in there advocating for yourself? Like you, okay, so you're coming outta Stanford. Like, what was your pitch to Jerry? Do you remember it?
[00:40:41] Vanessa: I mean, I definitely remember feeling very nervous and feeling very uncertain, like similar to high school. I obviously had a great amount of success in college, but as you know, perfectionist as I am and competitive as I am. I'm focused on the fact that like, I never won a national title. I'd never even finish in the top three at nationals.
My highest finish was fourth place and right. That's amazing relatively speaking. But then when it comes to an excellent group, like Bowman, I'm like, well, they're not gonna want me because I haven't won anything big. And, and again, that goes back to this idea that like, there's always more that you can be achieving in sport.
And we tend to fixate on that rather than what we have accomplished. And but I think I was just honest. I was like look, I know you already have a really great group of women. I don't know if I'm, if you see me fitting in, but I will tell you. I have the drive to be good. I really, really want to see how good I can be.
And I think I can get better. And I think showing this, the self belief in myself showing the drive that I wanted that. And similar to what I did when I wanted to go to Stanford like that drive, and that desire goes a long way with coaches.
And I was similarly nervous reaching out to the Stanford coach because I thought like, well, who's to say that they're gonna wanna take on me when there are, you know, 20 other women who are maybe equally attractive candidates. But the fact of the matter is, is like you would be surprised at at the fact that like, Not all of those people are reaching out with the same sense of like urgency or desire.
So you just like never know. And that, that goes a really long way that desire to see how good you can be is probably, I would say, I mean, you have to show potential obviously, but I would say is like one of the most important things to Jerry as a coach,
[00:42:51] Stef: absolutely. Well, you can have like incredible talent and then have no drive and that's only gonna get you so far. so I think what you're saying is it's important. It's also just important to know and learn how to advocate for yourself. So that's with sport, but it's also outside of sport. When you get into the business world, like you have to know how to ask for more, how to advocate for yourself, you know, have the belief in yourself to know that you deserve that position, even though you're not quite yet qualified for it, or you haven't checked every single box.
Right. So I think it's a great lesson for all the girls out there that are listening to this. You gotta be bold and gotta go for it. So it's okay. Also, if you get a no doesn't mean you have to stop
[00:43:33] Vanessa: right. Yeah. Totally.
[00:43:35] Stef: Well track, also seems sometimes like an individual sport, but teamwork is such an important component of, and success in running. It's why you see a lot of these running clubs and teams around the country. So how does being part of a strong and successful team make you a better runner?
[00:43:53] Vanessa: I think it just continues to raise the bar around you of what y ou think is possible. And I think that there's something to be said about like someone around you doing something, or even maybe like seeing someone do something on the media, like you don't know them at all, but you see them do something. And that makes you think like, Hey, like maybe I could do that someday.
or wow, like, look at how much that person has improved. Maybe that means that I could also have a similar improvement curve. And I think that that's the power of being around people who continue to raise the bar is because it naturally helps you to raise the bar on yourself and realize that maybe you can redefine what you once thought was possible for yourself.
I think it's extremely powerful, but I will say, especially in the professional environment, It is different than a college team. I mean, we don't get to compete for like a team trophy anymore and something that I struggle with because I love the team element of sport. And I loved that. Although running is very individual at times, at least in college, we got to do those relays and we got to see how well we could do as a team on the national level.
There's always like a team trophy on the line. And I have a lot of envy for professional team sports, especially like seeing, you know, when the women's soccer team, when the national women's soccer team wins the world cup and like seeing their team celebration, I have so much envy cuz I'm like, there's never really quite a similar experience in track.
And I wish there was, but I think you also just have to. You have to create that and foster it and know that like, okay, maybe there again, won't be an external validating thing, like a title that your team gets or you know, naturally shared glory, but I'm going to learn how to celebrate other people's individual successes as if they were my own, because I did play a part of it and I'm not gonna necessarily get that glory on the world stage.
Like the women's soccer team is, but I know that, her success is my success and vice versa if we were, you know, working together every day throughout the process. So I think that that's, that's something that you kind of have to learn, especially at this level, but at any level in, in running, especially, or any kind of like individual racing type of sport,
[00:46:43] Stef: Yeah, I love, I love that. Like learning how to celebrate other people's individual success when the team component really isn't built into the pro club lifestyle. So I think that is, that's such a great lesson for other women too, to, to learn how to go into those environments and lift each other up and not, you know, tear each other down, cuz I'm sure it's, I'm sure there are moments in some clubs out there somewhere I'm not in one, not clearly not good enough to be in a run club, but you know, I'm sure there's those moments where there isn't that great team vibe or support, you know, and, and that can foster a lot of negativity.
It's not good to be around that. So I guess, you know, thinking about, thinking about your, your journey into the pro world, you know, it hasn't been exactly perfect. So let's talk about like some of the things that you've gone through because you turned pro in 2018 and you had just come off, you know, a ton of success at Stanford, and then you, you had so much pain in your Achilles tendons.
And so I, I have injured my Achilles before. It's a hard one to recover from. It's not easy. So in may of 2020 after everything was canceled, due to COVID, you got pretty big surgery on both of your Achilles tendons. Like you said, you were in two boots, not just one. What advice can you pass on to other young women that might get a setback like that?
[00:48:06] Vanessa: well, it kind of goes back to. Some things I've mentioned as far as like breaking down goals into bite size pieces. And like, what I did with the Achilles surgery was making something tangible that I could find joy in every single day with my progress, but also again, outside of the injury. And they were really simple.
For example, you know, I still had bandages on the wounds. I had four different incision sites on each heel and I was allowed to change the bandages every two days. And so I would write, I had an injury journal. I highly recommend keeping an injury journal. I'm not a journal. in general. I just have a hard time staying consistent, but in an injury I did journal every day and it helped me a lot.
And so I'd write down, you know, for the next day, what I was looking forward to, from the injury progress side and something else. And so like with the bandages in the wounds every other day, I got it changed. And I literally write down like, you know, I'm, I'm really excited to change the bandages tomorrow and to like see the progress of the wounds and take pictures of them.
And then at the end of the day, you know, write down like, yay, I got to change the bandages today. And it sounds so silly, but it really did create excitement and joy and like the littlest things in the process. And then like the thing outside of the injury would be like that I was excited, you know, to watch the nose episode of the bachelorette, like something really small and kind of dumb and silly, but Yeah, creating those small joyful moments for yourself.
So I think that that's really important. And then you have daily progress tracking daily things to look forward to cuz otherwise it's just too overwhelming to think, oh my gosh, I'm gonna be out for three months. And I have to watch all my friends racing on social media. And I think the other thing too, would be like leaning into supporting them again, knowing that you're a part of what they're doing on the field, on the track, even though you're not out there with them.
And I think that that helps rather than being like a passive viewer from home or from the sidelines
[00:50:32] Stef: Amazing. Well, and part of your recovery from that, you joined the voice and sport community as a vis league mentor, and you have been doing some of the sessions on injury and recovery. So can you get, can you give a, I guess a little bit of a teaser or a sneak peek at what you discussed with the girls during some of those injury recovery sessions that you do on Voice in Sport?
[00:50:53] Vanessa: Yeah. So I actually have shared snippets and screenshot pages of my personal injury journal in those sessions. I think it's really helpful to show that vulnerability and to show like some of the thoughts I was having too. And I would write down, you know, feeling really frustrated, watching my teammates you know, go crush their races and that's a normal feeling to be having too, like, you don't have to feel bad about or guilty for feeling that way that that's normal and natural, but then like how would I transfer those feelings into something positive after kind of processing them, which is really leaning into supporting those teammates.
So I, I also came up with. Like a really basic acronym, called rest, which literally stands for the R is rest and like taking your recovery and, and relaxing and, and resetting and doing all the things that your body needs. And then E is execute your plan. So like I said, like having, you know, listing out every day, what your plan is, even if it's the smallest littlest, silliest details, and then S is support.
Not only leaning into your own support system and advocating for what you need in your recovery. But then again, like I said, like supporting others, important energy into that, and then to is track your progress. So also goes into like at the end of the day, writing down what you did well, so yeah, just like little simple tricks and tools, but I think like through sharing my own experience, hopefully it can help someone else.
[00:52:39] Stef: Absolutely. Well, you're helping so many young girls today. I mean, it kind of comes full circle. You know, you, you got started in the sport at such a young age and the power of having visibility of role models and access to role models is something that we believe that voice and sport is incredibly important.
And you're playing a really big role in that now as part of our community. So thank you. And we're just so excited to see what you're gonna be doing next, Vanessa, cuz you're just getting started. I mean, I know you, maybe you feel like you've been doing it forever, but you know, you're still just getting started.
I feel like on getting to your, getting to your full potential. So what is, what is next for you and what is your next big goal?
[00:53:22] Vanessa: I have a few, well, I guess in the short term, I have one race that I'm targeting on July 15th. But I'm running a 5k then and really wanna get under the 15 minute barrier. I've done it once, but it was pre-surgery. And so it's kind of been this quest to find that pre-surgery fitness and confidence again, and I've gotten really close this year.
Unfortunately, I had a pretty disappointing race at Us Championships at the end of June. And so it's also been a little bit of a process like emotionally and physically bouncing back from that. And that's something that hopefully the VIS community can look out for in the future. I hope to do a session about like bouncing back from tough races and disappointment and, and not reaching your goals.
You know, one of my big reach goals was to make the world championship team this summer. And I you know, felt extremely short of that. And so I think I'm also in the process of regrouping and recollecting myself. And one thing I would say coming back from disappointment is it's good to set another goal, but it's also okay to kind of let yourself feel a little unmotivated for a little bit.
Not that I'm unmotivated, but I don't really know what the next big goal is. Aside from this race, I'm excited for this race, but kind of in the process of like processing this big let down and this big disappointment and you know, I'm sure at some point as it always does, disappointment ends up translating into motivation and fuelling the fire, but I'm not quite there yet I will say. So I will, I will get back to you as far as like the next big goal, but I also think it's just like, it's healthy to just kind of be in the present and, and see how I feel and go from there.
[00:55:22] Stef: Absolutely. Well, I just appreciate you so much being so honest because that is, I think it's also important for the young girls to see, like you're gonna have these moments of, you know, ups and downs in your journey and you know, we're, we're happy catching you right now in a moment of like, oh, I don't know my next big goal, but that's okay.
Like it's okay. Cuz it's a process, right?
[00:55:44] Vanessa: I think so. Yeah. And I also feel like you know, I try to use my social media as an outlet to really showcase the highs and lows and showcase how I'm feeling in those lower moments. But I think it's interesting that as it should, like the media really celebrates winning and success. But I think that that can sometimes lead to like a false view of what sport is or what being a pro athlete is.
Because that is really the thing that's visible in the media and those stories absolutely should be celebrated. And there's so much inspiration that can be garnered from those stories. But I also think for whoever one person is on the highest high, there's probably like 10 people in a low, and there's a lot to learn from those people in the lows as well.
And hopefully, you know , those stories. Aren't always being blasted out to the public, but you know, for me as somebody who's been in those lows and who was recently in that low, I do hope that there can also be inspiration from those stories. And there can also be recognition that like you know, oh, like , even if you're not winning, like you can still have value and you know, it can still be a worthwhile pursuit.
[00:57:08] Stef: Absolutely. Well, I can tell you from this, this episode, you are still inspiring so many young girls and that is purpose, right? And that has so much meaning. So I appreciate you taking the time, especially right before another really big competition to, to come and express how you're feeling, because we wanna bring more visibility.
That's why we called our company vis more vis bring more visibility to incredible women like you in, in every moment, like you said. So thank you for being part of the podcast, Vanessa, and we really enjoyed having you on. I would say we always like to end our podcast with two questions that we ask all of our athletes.
The first one is what is one piece of advice you would give to a younger girl in sport?
[00:57:58] Vanessa: I would say to never let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big to be really audacious and bold in the pursuit of those dreams. And I always hope that I can embody that idea and at the same time to remember that there are so many things that you can't control in that pursuit and that. At the end of the day, your achievements do not define you at all.
It's how you conduct yourself in that pursuit and the fact that you were audacious enough to dream it in the first place. So just remembering too, that at the end of the day, that's what matters most, but of course it is so worthwhile and important to dream those big dreams, no matter what happens.
[00:58:46] Stef: I love that. Okay. And a big question. Usually it's hard for our guests to come up with just one here, but what is one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
[00:58:59] Vanessa: I mean, it's pretty simple and obvious. I feel like, but like more media coverage of women's sports. and and like I said, like as a kid watching Stanford athletics on TV really inspired me. But they were probably mostly men's sports, I would say. So you know, how much more powerful could it have been if, if the women's sports were being showed just as much and how many more girls would be able to envision themselves in that position? The more that they're exposed to that.
[00:59:31] Stef: Agree. I love that. Well, thank you so much, Vanessa. We appreciate your time. We're excited to see what you do next and also so excited to see you do more sessions on the voice and sport platform. You're an incredible mentor and an inspiration for everybody in our community. So thank you for all that you do at biz.
[00:59:51] Vanessa: Thank you so much.
[00:59:54] Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by Vis creator, Zha Hawk, a track, and CrossCountry Runner from the University of Houston. Vanessa's journey teaches us how to play the long game in life and in sport, and how to have patients with ourselves and with our bodies, especially when they're recovering from a double Achilles.
Vanessa reminds us that even if we have audacious big goals, sometimes the path to reach them takes tiny bite size steps. And at the end of the day, Vanessa reminds us that our dreams are never too big and we can never be too bold in their pursuit. We are so grateful to have Vanessa as part of our Viz community as a Viz League mentor.
If you haven't already, go and check out her amazing sessions or request a one on one
if you liked our conversation with Vanessa, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. It's super easy to scroll down to the bottom of the Voice and Sport podcast page on Apple Podcast app and click leave us a review.
You can follow Vanessa on Instagram at Vanessa FRAs. Head to the feed on voice and sport and filter by journey or by running and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources that we have here at this.
Check out the sessions page and filter by professional athlete or by journey, and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our VIS League or VIS experts. Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy the convers. If you're interested in advocating for yourself as an athlete, check out episode number 86 with Maddy Price and her agent, Georgia Sim Lane.
See you next week on The Voice and Swar podcast asked.