POLITICAL PROFILES-Inspirational speaker, Juan Vasquez, a Data Analyst for the Mayor’s Office, competed in the District 52 Toastmasters International Speech Contest held at the Castaway Restaurant in the City of Burbank on Saturday, May 21.
Vasquez represented Voces Latinas Toastmasters, a public speaking club that meets twice a month at the White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles.
The criteria for participating in the high-level competition involved having won several prior speech competitions starting at the club level and having moved upward on the echelon, winning the area and division contests.
Vasquez competed with four other contestants, representing other Divisions in Toastmasters District 52. The winner will go to Washington DC in mid-August to the Toastmasters International Speech Contest, where this year’s World Champion will be recognized.
Vasquez delivered an inspirational speech built around his running the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon in 4 hours and 19 minutes, prized with a medal. He vividly laid out a detailed continuum -- covering from the very start of his run to the finish line. He recounts his heartfelt experience of committing to a set goal and overcoming the mental challenges that crossed his mind while running. He did not win a trophy at this speech contest. Still, I was able to interview him to expand on his 2016 LA Marathon experience.
One day, while chatting with his colleagues at City Hall, one dared Vasquez to run the LA Marathon. “The most I had run was 6 miles. In college, I played soccer with a small team for two or three hours a week,” he said. “Not very athletic.”
However, Vasquez said that the LA Marathon seemed like an opportunity to prove to himself that he could accomplish things that he thought were impossible. “It’s a way to show myself what I could accomplish, and challenge myself to go far beyond what I thought I could do,” he said.
In a six-week preparation period, Vasquez explained how he started with 8 mile-runs on the weekends and scaled it up to 22 miles. On weekdays he ran three to six miles a day followed by going to the gym “to work on strength-conditioning.” He and his two colleagues from work formed a support system to run on the weekends. “Our schedules sometimes conflicted but it was always nice to talk to someone who knew what it was like to run 16 miles on a Sunday.”
Once the Marathon started, he elaborated, “I kind of got into my pace. I started feeling very comfortable, enjoying the environment around me, the food, the families, and the music.” Thousands of people come out to support the runners, he said. “A lot of it hurt and was frustrating. There were times when I asked myself, why did I do this?” He wore his headset as an aide to move on when things got difficult. “There was a point at mile 20 that was by far the most challenging, running two-miles uphill,” he said. “It was a great experience though.” The run started at Dodgers Stadium in Elysian Park and ended in Santa Monica Beach.
Vasquez said that his two colleagues from the Mayor’s Office also crossed the finish line within 6 hours, their common goal was to complete the run. “But, we each had our own individual goals as to how we were going to do it. It was never about a competition between the three of us,” he explained. “We wanted to accomplish the big goal and we all did.”
Running the LA Marathon has raised his confidence in the workplace and his ability to connect with people. “It gets me to put difficult things in perspective. If I have a difficult day at work, I say it was a difficult day, but it wasn’t 26 miles,” he said with a big smile.
“It helped me realize that I should always believe in myself and that there might be other reasons why I might fail but never because of my self-doubt.”
Juan Vasquez is presently preparing and looking forward to run in the Long Beach Marathon on October 9th of this year with a goal to finish under four-hours.
(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils and is a neighborhood council participant.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.