Since leaving high school Melbourne’s Vanessa Vacirca has been on a roller coaster ride with her health, lifestyle and weight and four years ago at 123 kg felt like anything but a triathlete. When Vanessa lines up at IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong on 18 February, she will be one step closer to her ultimate goal of racing a full IRONMAN and proving that ‘Anything is Possible’.
A keen tennis player from the age of four Vanessa was very active until she finished high school but like many, at that age, she got a little sidetracked, chose a different lifestyle and took a long break from sport.
“I went the opposite way from a healthy life, started smoking and went off the rails a little. I realized this life was not making me happy so I decided to try and get fit. I went to the gym and religiously attended aerobic classes. I quit smoking, I lost some weight and felt great, fit, and happy. Someone mentioned that if I really enjoyed training that I should give triathlons a go. So, in 2003 I did, and I signed up for the BRW Corporate Triathlon.”
“I loved it, so I did a few other short sprint triathlons that season. During that time, I happened to catch a documentary on TV that was following some Aussies competing in IRONMAN (when it was held in Foster-Tuncurry, NSW). Their stories were all different and so inspiring and I thought, ‘I’d like to do that. I’d like to see how far I can go’.
“Then slowly my priority and desire to train, keep fit and healthy did a complete U-turn. I was still playing some tennis here and there, but as the weight piled on, activity became harder on the body. With small bursts of effort to try and lose weight and regain a healthy lifestyle, it seemed like I’d take one step forward and three steps back. I did this for years until my steps backwards became leaps.”
“Four years ago, I hit my lowest point. I remember thinking to myself that the idea to do an IRONMAN was well and truly gone. I felt trapped in my body, smothered by 123kg. I didn’t have the energy to even want to get up in the morning, let alone try and train. I was sad, desperate, and needed help. So I decided to look into weight loss surgery. At first, I hated this idea. I felt like a failure like I was taking the easy way out but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to feel the way I did and needed help to be pulled out of the hole I was in.”
Vanessa was desperate to change her life but knew that if she could get over her weight issue, she could do anything.
“I remember trying to decide which type of surgery to have and asking the doctor, ‘What’s the best option for me if I’d like to one day participate in an endurance event?’ This is when that spark of hope came back for me. What if I could lose enough weight to train for an IRONMAN?” Vanessa said.
“From the first day after the surgery, walking around the hospital ward, to my slow walks around my neighbourhood, then a slow jog, a four km fun run, a 10km fun run, sprint triathlons, a half marathon, an Olympic distance triathlon, a marathon, a 70.3 and lots of training in between, competing in Geelong will be another step towards a full IRONMAN.”
“Competing in an event such as IRONMAN 70.3 or the full IRONMAN offers people a chance to regain or cement their belief in themselves, as it has for me. So much inspiration and motivation comes from this. I’d always driven through Geelong on the way to the Surf Coast but never spent time there. When I participated in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, I thought Geelong would be a beautiful place to do an IRONMAN 70.3. And here we are,” she said.
Vanessa’s training is on track and while she is looking forward to a great race, she only has three expectations of herself – to make it to the start line, to get to the finish and improve on her last performance.
“I love the swim because it’s such a challenge for me. It’s so technical and there’s so much to learn. The bike is fun and is my best leg. Running isn’t easy for me, it’s a grind but I love the intimate moments inside my head where I dig deep and find ways to keep going. Every time I run, I find my inner strength. You discover a lot about yourself, and I like that. The finish line represents another milestone in my journey and it will look like a reflection of hard work, pride, and success.”
Vanessa’s family and friends support her in everything she does and they will be in Geelong to see her take her next step on her IRONMAN journey.
“My partner is very supportive given all the hours I spend training. I’m very thankful and grateful for that. My parents are proud and so happy that I’m living a positive and healthy lifestyle after seeing the way I used to be,” she said.