Alumnus Thanh Vu ’08 inspires students to chart their own course

As part of Asian Heritage Month initiatives at Trinity College School, the Cultural Awareness Group (CAG) welcomed guest speaker Thanh Vu ’08, an alumnus and ultramarathon runner from Vietnam, on Wednesday May 19th.

Ms. Vu provided an inspiring talk about her experiences as a runner, beginning with her time on the TCS harriers squad, where she was one of the slowest runners on the team, to becoming the first South Asian woman to complete the Four Deserts Marathon Series. Noted as the most difficult running challenge in the world, participants must complete in four 250 km runs across the Namib, Gobi, Atacama and Antarctic (or Last) deserts within one calendar year. Each run takes seven days, and runners are required to carry their own gear throughout.

After graduating from TCS, Ms. Vu attended the prestigious Schulich School of Business and then landed what she called a “dream job” at Bloomberg in Singapore. She spoke about her decision to walk away from that job in pursuit of her running goals, and how she views her achievements as a way to inspire others to follow their own dreams. “At the end of the day, you want to be an ambassador for what you stand for, and to let your voice be heard,” she said.

Describing her ultramarathon experience, she explained that the biggest challenge is often mental, having to push through in moments when it seems like you will not finish. In one race, she had hit a wall when she was passed by a 60-year-old man with a prosthetic leg. “The moment that he passed me, I could feel the determination – he was so focused and so determined.” It provided the needed impetus for her to keep pushing forward and complete the run.

Fear, she says, can hold us back, but it can also help to push us forward. “Fear is a constant presence in your life – acknowledge it, embrace it and use it,” she told students.

She also spoke of the importance of inspiring young women in her home country of Vietnam, where in some places it is still viewed that marriage is the best option; she hopes to show these young women that they can pursue their education and lead the way for others in their community or their family by attending university.

Among her proudest achievements was running in the harsh environment of Antarctica and she was proud to show a photo of herself wearing her TCS athletic pants while participating in this leg of the challenge!

Students had many questions for Ms. Vu, including one who asked how she knew she was ready to take on the Four Deserts challenge. “I didn’t know I was ready!” she responded. “It’s something that really scared me. But if a goal is not scary, it’s not big enough.” She likened her experience to a missile that might veer off track but continues to move towards its target. One of the key ways she did this was by admitting to others what her goal was, although she was afraid to say it. Once she did, she received advice and help that made the difference.

At the end of the presentation, she told students: “You own your own narrative. Create a legacy you are proud of.”

Thank you to Ms. Vu and to CAG, including Mrs. Rachel Stephens, for making this presentation possible, as well as Mr. Myke Healy and Ms. Kim Vojnov for their support. And a special shout-out to students Ricky Nguyen and TianTian Dong, who welcomed and thanked Ms. Vu on behalf of the school community for her motivational speech.