Chrissy Vasquez wasn’t always a runner. In fact, she surprised herself when she agreed to her first half marathon. Now, as vice president of operations for Back on My Feet, Chrissy uses running as a cornerstone for people looking to rebound from homelessness and unemployment.
Chrissy is responsible for 10 Back on My Feet chapters across the country. The national non-profit organization uses running teams to help homeless, unemployed people find their way to a job, a home, a community, and independence. Team members are recruited from homeless and residential facilities and initially commit to three days per week of morning group runs. From there, the “Next Steps” program provides education, job training, and other support.
Chrissy is also an Ironman triathlete and tells her Ironman story through her blog Sausage in a Wetsuit and in a Lilly TedX talk. She’s also appeared on several podcasts as a guest. We caught up with her and are excited to share her story — and that of BoMF!
SR: How did you start running? Was it because of Back on My Feet?
CV: I had been working with a personal trainer for about two years after deciding I needed to get my stuff together, but I was sleeping through training sessions and my trainer called me out on it. Around the same time a friend challenged me to run the inaugural 13.1 series half marathon in Miami and for some reason I said ok. I didn’t think I would actually do it, but another good friend was training for her first full marathon and I did it. Then I ran a few more.
It was at the Carmel Marathon expo that I got exposed to Back on My Feet. I had volunteered at soup kitchens since I was a teen and my best friend was in the darkest part of his alcohol addiction. Back on My Feet just resonated with me. I was eventually asked to be a team leader for a new team, which was surprising because I wasn’t fast, but I said yes — which also surprised me. Eventually I got more involved and over time I was hired to be the executive director.
SR: Has Back on My Feet helped you become a better runner?
CV: It’s made me a more disciplined runner. I had been sleeping through personal trainer appointments yet when I was a team captain for Back on My Feet I needed to be downtown at o’dark-thirty to run with the team before going to work. I also learned to run because I am fortunate to be able to run, to be able to afford to travel to race, to be able to be part of an amazing community of people.
SR: What are you most proud of as a runner/triathlete?
CV: The obvious answer would be Ironman. That I didn’t quit when it became obvious I wouldn’t be an official finisher, when people were telling me to give up. But really it was probably my first open water swim. I was at Eagle Creek in June and I probably only knew a handful of people there. Nobody else looked like me. I felt very alone at the beginning of the swim. After that when I returned to Eagle Creek the next year I made it a point to seek out people who seemed alone and introduce myself.
SR: It would seem that, with the Ironman story, part of what would make you proud is the awareness you brought to Back on My Feet and the money you were able to raise.
CV: Absolutely! I was able to raise $17,500 that year. Most of it was because people thought it was so amazing that I was even going to try to do this crazy thing. But also because of how it better connected me to the story of the people we serve.
SR: What’s next? What is the next big goal?
CV: The crash I had in IM 70.3 Augusta was an accident, but it wasn’t. I needed to take some time away. But I’ve had the time, I’ve been working with my coaches on the mental aspects of the sport. I’ve been reconnecting to my faith and developing a spirituality. I’ve raced since then, but not much. I deferred Chicago Marathon because I was too busy with work in 2017…but I’ve also found I need to make the space for myself to train and race because it makes me better at being me. I’ll return to triathlon in 2018 and my big goal is finishing the Chicago Marathon.
SR: What has your training been like/how are you training?
CV: I’ve actually been at Orange Theory a lot and it is good for me. It is helping me find ways to push myself harder than I ever thought possible. When I think I need to back down, I go in the opposite direction and push through. This helped me run my fastest race yet even though I am not in the best running shape I have been in. I go and I don’t know what the workout is going to be, but I get there and I do it. I haven’t been good at getting myself to the Y to work out on my own, so the consistency is valuable.
We wish Chrissy the best of luck in 2018!
Interested in supporting Back on My Feet? Check out the activities of a chapter near you for volunteer opportunities or donate online.