In 2006 Vanessa Raw shot to multisport fame by coming fourth in the U23 World Champs and 10th at the Beijing World Cup Olympic test event. The 21-year-old looked set to lead the British women for years to come.
And then Raw’s multisport life began to unravel.
In late 2006 Raw picked up a knee injury. Depression set in. “I had no release, it was like a vicious circle,” Raw confided on her website (www.vanessaraw.com). “I mistakenly went onto antidepressants. I tried to come off them for a while, but I was physically as well as mentally addicted to them. If a missed a pill I felt extremely dizzy so I knew I had to just stop them. Stupidly it was right before Beijing 2007, not surprisingly I came last!”
Injuries continued to plague Raw – trapped nerves, further knee injuries, back problems… – and she is currently off the world-class radar. In fact, many were under the impression the Hexham-born 26-year-old had gone full-time in pursuit of her other love – art.
Well, Raw is still in triathlon and is back in training, still with hope of a spot at 2012. We met up with Raw after she’d just taken a dip in an ice bath at a Holiday Inn near Russell Square, London, alongside 100m runner Mark Lewis-Francis to promote the hotel chain’s Olympic offer of free accommodation at events for 50 potential Olympians, including Raw.
We caught up with Raw post-bath to talk injury, art and 2012…
So you’re finally injury-free and training full-time?
I’m getting there. My race season will start in September. But for now I’m in my ‘winter training’. I’ve got a new team who are going to help me move forward and get racing well again. And not just making do like I have done.
What’s been the root cause of your four-and-a-half year run of injury?
It started because I think [back in 2006] cardiovascular-wise I was there but I don’t think my body was. I had so many structural problems but we never discovered why. Now we’ve discovered it’s a functional thing.
Basically after having met some fantastic people who were interested in the movement of the body, they figured out that I had an imbalance on my right-hand side compared to my left.
You can get away with it swimming and biking, but it flares up when running. But now I’m positive and am convinced I’ll be better than 2006.
What does your training comprise at the moment?
All of my training is based around the gym at the moment and strengthening the imbalance. I’m still swimming and biking but the gym is at the heart of my training. I need to get structurally strong and fit and ready to go before upping the running.
We hear you have a new coach?
My coach is now Rick Velati. He’s really positive, really passionate, really believes me and helps me believe. He coached Helen [Jenkins] who was in a similar position to me pre-Beijing . She’d lost funding and had been injured but not only did she qualify for the Olympics, she won the World Champs, too.
My old coach was good but he was just too busy to give me the time I needed.
You mention your race season will begin in September. What’s the plan?
I’ll be looking to get ITU points so I can race the World Champs Series at the start of 2012. It’s going to be tight because it is relying on other people’s performances this year [in other words, them not doing well]. That’s the realism of it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I still might carry on toward the Commonwealth Games and Rio.
With such a run of injuries, have you thought about quitting?
It’s been difficult. I’ve thought about quitting a lot, especially in the last three months. In fact I was 95% toward quitting but thought I’d give it one more chance.
On a positive note, time away from the tri circuit has given you more time to paint?
Yes, I’m still painting (www.vanessarawart.com). I’m trying to paint in the kitchen, which is difficult. I’ve moved everything out to the garden, which isn’t great when it rains.
But I’ve been concentrating on that over the last few months, and hopefully I’ve got some possibilities with new galleries over the next few months.
I’m going to put a show on in September in London. I’ve got to produce a lot of work for that, so I’m going to have to be very organised over the next few months to fit everything in. If that goes well the gallery will sign me, and then that’ll pay for the triathlon.
Do you sell many paintings?
I sold more paintings when I did well in 2006; that’s when I had more publicity behind me. Art can very much be about who you are. I’ve spent the past few months seeing a lot of art so now I’m ready to explode with ideas.
Which artists influence your art?
Recent influences include Peter Doig. More classical artists include Monet and Turner.
As for my own art, most of my paintings are massive – my portraits are six feet; landscapes up to 8ft long. Sometimes I can work hours and hours without turning off and can produce one in just over a week.
You’ve had so many injuries and have an obvious passion and talent for art. So why persist with multisport?
The first one is obvious – 2012. But I feel I’ve been given this engine for something, and I feel almost obliged to show what the limit of my self is. I’m interested in the limits of the human being – the mind-body link; what is actually possible.
I feel it’s down to how much you believe in yourself. Many of my problems have stemmed from not believing in myself – being very negative and having a low self-esteem. Triathlon has helped me reflect on myself and get more confidence, and work out what’s going wrong mentally as well as physically.
Find out more about Vanessa Raw at www.vanessaraw.com
Find out more about Vanessa Raw at www.vanessaraw.com