After establishing herself as one of the best 400-meter sprinters in the country over the course of her career, Seattle Pacific’s Vanessa Aniteye found herself in a different position in her final collegiate race.
The former Eagle River prep star concluded her illustrious career with a national title after winning the 800 meters at the 2023 NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships on March 11 with a career-best mark of 2:06.84.
“It was great ending my season like that and it took me two or three days to realize what really happened,” she said.
Aniteye knew she was the favorite heading into nationals after producing impressive marks during the season as well as at regions but still wondered how she measured up to the rest of the best the nation had to offer.
“I knew I was on top of the list, but the next two people weren’t very far away so it was kind of one of those things where it was whatever happens, happens, and you just never know what other people are going to do,” Aniteye said.
Prior to the past indoor season, Aniteye had been a 400-meter runner at Seattle Pacific University and before that at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She decided to switch it up for her last ride and won every 800-meter race in which she competed.
“The whole season I had this ‘last-one-best one’ mentality to make this last season the best season,” Aniteye said. “I didn’t want to waste too much energy on all the worries but at the end of the day you’re still going to be super nervous and especially going into (nationals).”
What makes her story more impressive than most national champions is the detour she took on her journey to the top.
Aniteye had already accumulated six All-American honors at UAA when she stepped away from competitive running in 2019. When she resumed competing at Seattle Pacific, she also had a renewed sense of purpose. During her time away, she became a wife and a mother.
Unfortunately, her husband, Brandon Nicholson, and son Josiah weren’t able to cheer her on in person, but they were with her in spirit while watching virtually back home in Seattle.
The idea to take up a new event for her final collegiate season didn’t come from her but rather one of her coaches.
“Just knowing that I didn’t have an outdoor season, they didn’t want to put too much pressure on me,” Aniteye said. “I’ve run the 400 for so many years now and you have expectations. When you start something new, you’re a little bit more loose on how you approach things.”
Her coaching staff wanted her to be able to enjoy her last season with them with fewer lofty expectations.
“I guess it turned out to be better than we thought,” Aniteye said. “There were still expectations but the main idea was making the best out of a short season.”
She recently returned to Anchorage and took part in the annual Big C Relays, where she competed against some of the best high school and adult runners in the state and came in first in the Women’s Varsity 1 Mile Finals with a mark of 5:01.82.
The race took place at The Dome sports complex, which holds special reverence for her. It’s where her passion for track and field was ignited at 15 years old when she competed for Chugiak High.
“My very first ever track and field race was at The Dome,” Aniteye said. “My running career started at The Dome and coming back there after almost 10 years was pretty cool.”
Aniteye recently graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. She plans to spend more time with family but also continue her training.
“I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom, but also a runner,” she said. “I’m still running and am going to take it into the summer and see where running will take me. Hopefully, maybe eventually get some sponsorships and work up to whatever career I want to work in.”
After being a full-time student-athlete and parent for the past three years, she is relieved to be done with school for a while so she can just focus the bulk of her time and energy on one avenue.
As far as her professional aspirations as an athlete, she has dreams of competing in the Olympics like her role model Allyson Felix, who is also a runner and a mother, but understands that it takes “baby steps” to put herself in that position.
“The Olympics is something that I have my eyes on but it’s not like an expectation or anything,” said Aniteye, who was born in Germany. “I’m just running for fun now, and if I turn out to be very good at it and I get an opportunity to run for Germany, which I’d love to do, then I definitely would go for that.”