My Game: Vanessa Valentine

June 29, 2015

Vanessa Valentine has no need for a Fitbit. As a star member of the Vanderbilt’s cross country and track teams, the junior’s daily activity can be measured in miles, not in steps. The engineering science major from Melbourne, Fla., is constantly on the move, making a huge impact for the Commodores on an almost year-round level. Last fall, she helped the cross country team capture the program’s first Region title.

CN: This is never an easy question for a multi-sport athlete to answer, but which season do you look forward to the most  cross country, indoor track or outdoor track?

Valentine: Well, I think for most girls who do all three, the answer to that question is probably based on your specialty. I’m more towards the distance side, so I kind of prefer cross country because it’s not as monotonous as taking laps around a track. (Laughs) This past season, when we ran in Wisconsin, we got to run on these beautiful farms and through these rolling hills; and then, at FSU, for regionals, we were running through the woods. So, to me, running cross is a lot more exciting, and it’s definitely my favorite season. But I really love track, too. For me, it’s like, at the end of cross, I’m excited for track and at the end of track, I’m excited for cross.

CN: How much different is the training for cross country and track?

Valentine: I think that kind of depends on who you are. For someone like Sara Barron, who runs the 1,500, she will see her mileage drop by a certain percentage (during track), and she will focus more on intensity. For the more distance-oriented girls, like me, it doesn’t differ too much. But I guess one of the biggest adjustments is that during track season we do more work on the track and more speed pick-up training. But for cross country, we will sometimes go to our home course and do hill repeats; or we might go to the park and run in front of the Parthenon, which is pretty cool. So you get more course training. You don’t do hill repeats for a flat track.

CN: Tell us a little bit about the recent trip you took to Costa Rica with Soles4Souls.

Valentine: It was really a remarkable trip in so many ways. … On the volunteering and service side, it was just an incredible experience. I had never done a trip like that before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. And to me, one of the most amazing aspects was seeing how the simplest things make the children happy. Seriously, just giving them a pair of plain black rubber shoesâ€â€nothing special at allâ€â€was the greatest thing in the world to them. So just being part of that process was awesome. There was one day where we played a game of pick-up soccer with the kids, and it was just so Central America. We were playing soccer in this old, torn-up parking lot and for the goal posts, we used an old pair of shoesâ€â€which one of the kids had worn that day before getting his new shoes. So that was really cool. … And where we stayed was also really awesome, too, with a lady named Lilian, who was our main contact with Sole4Souls. We didn’t stay in a 5-star hotel; we got the real experience of living in a Costa Rican neighborhood, which is not an experience you usually get as a tourist or volunteer. It was such a cool experience.

CN: Being from Florida, did it take a while for you to warm up to the idea of being a Commodore when you first got to Vanderbilt?

Valentine: Well, pretty much everyone in my familyâ€â€my dad, my sister, my uncleâ€â€went to University of Florida. So, going back to the day I was born, I was probably wearing a Florida T-shirt. I mean, I probably came out orange and blue. So, sports has always been such a huge part of my life, and I am very passionate about that in terms of what you can learn from sports and how great it is to be part of a team. And when I came to Vanderbilt on my visit as a senior (in high school), I just fell in love with it. I loved the team, the coaches and the fact that it was an SEC school. Plus, the academics rigors are great, and I love Nashville, too. But when I first came here, I definitely had to turn off my Florida loyalties. Because when you love something the way that I loved the University of Florida, you can’t just all of the sudden forget it. So I had to kind of let go of that. But seriously, ever since I committed to Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt became my No. 1. I was so excited to be here and to represent this school. And then, the pride I have in being here has just grown more and more each day. It’s pretty awesome when you really think about how great it is to be here, and what a cool opportunity you have as an athlete. Even being a member of the cross-country teamâ€â€which I realize is not as idolized as maybe football or baseballâ€â€gives me the chance to impact other people’s lives. I had never thought about being an ambassador until recently… but really, even in your little sector, you have the ability to positively impact other people, and that’s really cool.