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A Mindful Runner Shares What Drives Her to Train for the First-Ever All-Female Run Across the Serengeti

Rhonda Vetere is a tech industry executive, an athlete, and, this October, a participant in the inaugural Serengeti Girls Run—a 55-mile, multi-day journey that aims to empower the next generation of female leaders.

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“I cannot sit and do yoga poses and meditate—I’m just always on the go,” says Rhonda Vetere, president of data analytics at nThrive and former CIO and CTO of Estee Lauder Companies. Last year, the business exec, who has 25+ years of leadership experience under her belt, traveled 237 days for work. “It’s been like that for probably seven years,” says the 47-year-old New Yorker. But just because she eschews the mat doesn’t mean that she’s not mindful.

To keep her body and brain healthy—in the fog of jet lag or the stiffness that follows air travel—Vetere turns to fitness. “When I’m exercising, I’m sharper mentally. Exercise rebalances me.” Years ago, she found what made her tick, as she puts it, and she stuck with it. It’s something she suggests everyone find, too—a moment to harness your quiet, to connect with yourself. It’s what will help push you toward new goals, milestones, and adventures.

For her, that’s the first-ever, female-only, multi-day charity event, the Serengeti Girls Run, which, this October 19 to 24, will bring awareness, funds, and fearless female runners to race across Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania, all the while supporting local female communities. Part of Singita’s new conservation initiative called Safaris With a Purpose, the run is only open to 20 women from around the world. Entrants donate $15,000 to the Singita Grumeti Fund, which goes toward fueling the next generation of female leaders through education, scholarships, building life skills, internships, and training.

Participants in the run are invited to complete either a 30 kilometer (about 18.6 miles) or 90 kilometer (55 miles) course spread over three days. The first day also includes a “fun run” (3 km) with local women and girls—the very people who will benefit from the fundraising event. In local northern Tanzanian communities, girls and women face grave issues such as genital mutilation, early marriage, unwanted pregnancies, poverty, and a lack of education—all on a daily basis.

It’s a deeply powerful and necessary cause, and one that is motivating to Vetere, who excels as both a female business leader and an athlete. Vetere regularly competes in Ironmans, triathlons, half-marathons, and marathons. The connection to the Serengeti Girls Run was a serendipitous one for her, too—and it won’t be her first run in the area. In early June, she was on a trip to various Singita Resorts in the Serengeti, celebrating her birthday. Training for an Ironman, she needed to do a few runs. After asking the resort’s manager how she could do it—and being told running the area wasn’t common practice—the manager set Vetere up with armed guards who would run alongside her in the event of an animal attack. (Remember, the Serengeti is essentially one of the world’s greatest zoos without cages.) Vetere completed two training runs on consecutive days: 11 miles one day, eight the next. Later, during a visit to a local community, she learned about the Serengeti Fund and the women’s run. She signed up almost immediately.

In October, Vetere will not only run, but also speak at the event. “I like to give back, I take being a role model seriously and I like to spread my heart,” says Vetere. It’s something she feels passionately about in the fitness world, too: encouraging more women to move. “I want women to know they can do anything,” she says.


Related: Is Running for Every Body?


But, in order to make a change and get your word across, you have to give yourself time to think—and Vetere does that by lacing up. “Exercise is where I get my quietness, mindfulness, and spirituality. I like it very quiet. That’s where I do a lot of my thinking.”

It’s part of the reason you won’t find her running with music, her phone, or a high-tech tracker. For Vetere, movement is meditative no matter where she is—the vast expanses of the Serengeti or a crowded, loud city. “I can listen to birds, I can listen to horns if I’m running in New York, people, cars whizzing by, I can listen to life. That grounds me,” she says. “I don’t want to see my emails, I don’t want to hear music or anything. I just go into my own zone.”

As for physical training that comes with a 55-mile trek through the Serengeti? While the mere thought might overwhelm most, this is what Vetere does for fun. Case in point: She ran the New York triathlon in early July in almost 100-degree F temps. To her, exercise is truly about the mental benefits. “I’m always training. That’s how much I believe in the mindfulness.”

She hopes to share that message with young girls and women all over the world this October. “I think the race is about more than running. It’s about self-esteem and wellness,” says Vetere. “I want to teach and give back. I want the girls to learn about fitness, mental strength, and spirituality—and that you can do anything you put your mind to—no matter where you are in the world.”

This special safari will take place October 19 to 24, 2018. Reduced rates for participants start at $1,413 per person sharing (two participants per tent) for five nights. Excludes flights, transportation, and the donation amount of $15,000 per person, which goes toward girl and women empowerment projects in the Serengeti. Register here!

 

Photography by Alex Nicks

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