Mom with a Mission

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SheJumps Co-Founder Vanessa Pierce takes on the Snowbird Hill Climb

Written by: Vanessa Pierce

I love being active. I’m your average weekend warrior, casual evening worker outer and lover of all types of outdoor adventures. I do enjoy a good pain cave in athletics — sometimes — but mostly I’ve retired from being “hard core.” My enthusiasm for pinning my heartrate at 500 bpm started to wane after I graduated from college. I figured as a D-1 soccer player, I ran almost 500 miles in one season. That’s 1,200 miles in four years of college soccer (not including off-season training). That seemed like enough running in a lifetime, so since then I’ve mellowed out.

Six months ago, I had my first baby. I got more mellow and squishy like a marshmallow. It was alarming how my relative active lifestyle took a turn for the soft core. After months of occasionally working out with no clear goal in mind other than to shed my belly roll, I decided enough was enough and I needed to get in shape. I declared: “I will become a road cyclist.”

Training with Everett in the Burley.

Training with Everett in the Burley.

If you know me, you know I don’t shy from a physical challenge and when I commit, it’s balls to the wall. My dear friend and SJ Executive Director Claire Smallwood calls it Vanessa’s “horse mode,” you know foaming-at-the-mouth-don’t-stop-until-you-win horse mode. I’ve been known to be “obsessed” with learning and can frequently turn the switch to horse mode. I learned how to ride a motorcycle, learned how to fly planes, how to box (fist fight), to fly fish, to climb, to mountain bike, to be a journalist, to be a career marketer. I’m a professional jack of all trades.

Though suspected, I didn’t have a personal experience with how hard core “roadies” really are — so diving into this sport as a marshmallow was nerve-racking. However, I was up for the challenge. I asked my co-worker Carly, who had her first baby two months before me, to join me in the get-fit challenge. Unlike me, though, she is a cyclist and knows how to navigate the pain cave. I decided to sign up for one of Salt Lake’s toughest races — the Snowbird Hill Climb — which is 10 miles, 3,500 vertical and a 12 percent grade. I did it to motivate me to actually work out on a schedule, which is nearly impossible with an infant.

Carly, Layla (her 9 month old), Everett and me.

Carly, Layla (her 9 month old), Everett and me.

I had six weeks to get there. I mostly rode every day to work, then did a lunch- or after-work spin. If I didn’t have much time, I would put my little boy in his Burley, and do hill intervals. I could feel myself getting leaner and stronger. Finally, a week before the race, I rode up one of the most challenging canyons in the valley, Mill Creek — 9 miles, 2,700 vertical, 7 percent grade — and did it without stopping. Never ever did I want to do that again. But I had to.

Support team.

Support team.

When race day finally came, I thought, “I got in shape and that was the goal, why do I have to ride up this canyon?” Four friends decided to do it with me — all of them actual cyclists and more in shape that me — and they were awesome motivators. When the mass start began, everyone pretty much took off. Myself, not really knowing how to race, slowly meandered along. I continued to meander along through the end. It was brutal with about one 25-yard flat-ish spot where I was able to rest my legs. Halfway up I decided I wasn’t going to stop and turned on horse mode. I didn’t stop. It took me 1:45, the winner did it in 55 min. I finished dead last.

Getting close to the finish on race day.

Getting close to the finish on race day.

As much as I love to win, I’m happy. Whenever you can set your mind to something and make it happen — whatever it may be — that should be celebrated. Claire, Lynsey Dyer and I started SheJumps almost 10 years ago to build a community of women that support each other and inspire each other to learn new things and motivate others. I’m so proud to see that happening all over the country. The Girafficorn Nation is real and amazing. To all those who want to learn something new, we’re there to help. Just do it. Join a SheJumps event, create your own challenge, bring your friends, go into horse mode. We challenge you. You will be proud of yourself for trying whether win or lose.