Resilience and Hope: Interview with Ana Alcaron of AnaGoesFit

“I have never expected so much support, love, and kindness from so many women and men. What happened to me, it shouldn’t happen ever, to men or women. And that’s why I shared it, because we have a voice and a choice.”


Before Vanessa died, I lived in a bubble. I knew that assault and gender-based violence were real issues in our society, however, the thought that I, or anyone I loved, could ever be a victim, rarely crossed my mind.

Fast forward to today, a year and a half after Vanessa’s death, and sometimes I am still in utter disbelief that this actually happened to my best friend. As much as I hope that I will wake up and it will all just be a horrific nightmare, I know that’s not reality. Fueled by the desire to prevent future senseless acts, I helped establish the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation. The foundation envisions a world where women live free from objectification and harassment. However, there is a lot that needs to be done before we live in this kind of world. The first, and most critical step, is raising awareness.

A few months after Vanessa died, I came across this post by AnaGoesFit, a Boston-based fitness blogger. I am typically drawn to her “fitspo” posts about how to live a healthy lifestyle and instagram feed of delicious healthy meals with perfect lighting. This post, however, was different. Ana shared that she started her day the same as usual. She left her apartment before the sun came up to teach her fitness class, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in the hospital. She had been assaulted.

  The post Ana shared on her Instagram account to spread awareness about her assault.

The post Ana shared on her Instagram account to spread awareness about her assault.

Like a lot of people, I was incredibly moved by Ana’s post. I reached out to her to thank her for spreading awareness, share Vanessa’s story, and ask her if she would be willing to help with the foundation in the future. She responded right away that she would be happy to help in any way that she could. I recently had the chance to interview her. Here’s what she had to say about her experience and why she’s compelled to raise awareness and advocate for our cause.

It can happen to anyone.

When talking to Ana, I learned that before her assault she was just like I had been before Vanessa died. She never thought this could happen to her. She said: “I always thought Boston was safe, but this experience taught me that this can happen anywhere.” Ana decided to share her story on social media to help raise awareness. When I asked her why she chose to share her story, she said:  “I wanted to show people that it happens to anyone. I feel like everyone thinks this could never happen to them. I wanted to share so people are mindful, more aware that it can happen. It doesn’t matter if you are privileged, have a great lifestyle, it can still happen to you.”

Change starts with awareness.

Given her following on social media, Ana expected her post to have a big reaction. What surprised her was how big of a reaction she received. She said: “People were very kind and willing to share their stories. It opened my eyes to how often this happens. The reaction was amazing. It brought a lot of people together, especially in the Boston fitness community, where there are a lot of women who often work very early, or late hours, and are commuting alone.” Ana was hesitant to share her story because it came at an emotional time - it was right before the holidays and her brother had passed away a month before. She was moved by the reaction and the outpouring of support she received, and was happy to bring attention to an issue that needs to be discussed.

  Boston fitness community coming together to show their support a few days after Ana's assault

Boston fitness community coming together to show their support a few days after Ana's assault

Women deserve more.

What resonated with me most about Ana’s post was her belief that women deserve more. She mentions that “women shouldn’t need to feel scared to walk alone in the dark, be constantly aware of her surroundings, carry pepper spray, or wear protective rings.” Although I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, I realize we don’t live in this world yet. I’ve learned that now more than ever, as we continue to work toward a world where we truly are free to live boldly and fearlessly, it’s important that women are aware of their surroundings.

Listening to Ana’s response about how her behavior has changed since her attack was another reminder of why our foundation is working so hard to carry out our mission. She admitted that “sadly yes” she has changed her behavior since her assault. She recounted, “I used to be very naive. I thought I was living in a very safe community and that I didn’t need to worry about this stuff. My morning commute was my me time, I always wore headphones and zoned out.” In addition to “just opening her eyes a little bit more, and being more aware of her surroundings,” Ana has also changed her daily routine. She told me: “Now I try and time my workouts around when the sun is out, or when I know more people will be out and about. I try and avoid walking late at night by myself.”

As Ana talked about how her attack has forced her to change her behaviors, I started to tear up a little. It was all too familiar. I thought about Vanessa and how she cherished her walks in Princeton. Taking walks outside was her time to disconnect before heading back to the hustle and bustle of New York City. I thought about how my morning walk to the “T” was also my favorite part of the day - a time to truly unplug, zone out, and reflect. Now, like Ana, I am always more aware of my surroundings. I always stay alert, keep one headphone out of my ear, and never let my guard down.

We can’t just wait for a change.

Although Ana has felt the need to change her routines, she believes that “women shouldn’t be scared to go out alone.” She dreams of a world where she, and all women, are able to “go out alone without being scared, regardless of the time or the neighborhood.”  All of these reasons have compelled Ana to be an advocate for change. She told me, “I want to raise awareness. It’s not okay what happens to women. We need to make a change and, we are the ones who are going to make the change. We can’t wait for someone else. If we don’t do anything, it’s not going to happen.”

It’s not just a women’s issue.

When asked what needs to change in our society in order to live in a world where women truly can live boldly and fearlessly, Ana shared a lot of ideas. She pointed out that both men and women have a responsibility to change their behavior to move toward this change and that “it starts with gender equality.” The most actionable advice for women is “to start small. Start in your friend groups. Start empowering women. Stop bashing other women. It’s a snowball effect. Let’s change that way we talk about each other,” and she is right.

She called for men to “start putting it in perspective.” When men hear other men talking badly about women (even if it’s in a joking manner or just goofing off at a bar), they should ask themselves: “Would you want someone to talk to your wife, mother, sister, girlfriend, or daughter like that?” As women, Ana believes we can help men understand where we are coming from by “helping them visualize themselves in our place.” She also noted that the gender stereotypes women face are a large contributing factor to the objectification of women in society. To address this, according to Ana, we need “men to acknowledge that women are equal, women are strong, women can do anything.”

As I reflect on my conversation with Ana, I feel a mix of emotions. I feel so connected to what she said, and at the same time, overwhelmed, knowing that change won't be easy. I feel grateful for her support, and inspired by her resilience. But mostly, I feel compelled to keep spreading awareness and fighting for change. Ana's words sum it up perfectly: "I have never expected so much support, love, and kindness from so many women and men. What happened to me, it shouldn't happen ever, to men or women. And that's why I shared it, because we have a voice and a choice."

Learn more about Ana at STRIKE for Vanessa on January 21st, where she will be delivering opening remarks. You can learn more about Ana on her blog or by following her on Instagram @anagoesfit.



5 Days of Giving

What is Giving Tuesday?

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Since 2012, #GivingTuesday has been celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, falling between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Supporting a charity that is close to your heart is a great way to kick off the giving season!

What is the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5 Days of Giving?

For the five days (November 27-December 1), we will give you the chance to learn a little bit more about how the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation is making a difference while encouraging you to donate to this important cause. We’ll also do some giving of our own by giving out daily VTMF prizes to our supporters who help us by spreading the word and donating to our cause!

How can you get involved?

Be on the lookout for our daily posts which will share more personal stories of the impact we are making! Each post will also include more detail for the daily prize. If you feel inspired, please make a donation

So, how are we making a difference?

Spreading Safety Awareness

 ROAR for Good at Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk, June 2017

ROAR for Good at Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk, June 2017

Last June, we held our inaugural fundraiser, the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk at Wachusett Mountain. The event was a major success! Over 1,000 people came together to support the foundation and honor Vanessa on what would have been her 28th birthday.

This event was also special for us because we kicked off our partnership with Roar for Good, an organization whose mission is to make the world a safer place. Roar for Good is the creator of the Athena device, a wearable safety button that can sound an alarm or alert preset contacts of your location if you are in danger. Learn more about Roar for Good and Athena here.

Since losing Vanessa, we’ve been on a mission to find anything that can prevent future senseless tragedies. We really believe that Athena can make a difference and we were so excited to introduce it to the 1,000 people at our 5K!


Encouraging Bold and Fearless Runners

 The VTM Foundation Falmouth Road Race Team, August 2017

The VTM Foundation Falmouth Road Race Team, August 2017

As a foundation, it’s important to us that running events are embedded in our fundraising strategy. Not only did Vanessa love running (she ran the Falmouth Road Race many times and aspired to run the Boston Marathon one day), the act of running itself is empowering. Through our work, we hope that one day women will not fear running alone. Until that day, we want to equip women with the education around safety awareness so they can run fearlessly. We also want to continue honoring Vanessa’s legacy through participating in the races she loved and dreamed of running, but never could.

In 2017, we had a team of 20 men and women cross the Falmouth finish line carrying Vanessa with them the whole way. In 2018, we will have two bold and fearless runners cross the 122nd Boston Marathon in Vanessa’s honor! Read more about the marathon runners’ stories here.


Empowering Women Through Self-defense


On January 21st, hundreds of women will come together at Boston University, Vanessa’s alma mater, to participate in our inaugural self-defense and empowerment workshop, STRIKE for Vanessa. Celebrity trainer Avital Zeisler will lead the event, which will feature the Soteria Method, a unique blend of empowerment, visualization, and self-defense tactics. After Vanessa’s death, one of her best friends, Leah Abrahams, discovered Avital’s method. We were particularly drawn to Avital’s technique because, as Leah says in her blog post, “The ‘Why’ Behind STRIKE for Vanessa,” Avital’s method “ends with a visualization to cement the learnings, where women are challenged to picture a potential attack and formulate a hypothetical reaction. This practice of meditative visualizing can prevent the "freeze" that so many women experience after being attacked and help them develop an authentic survival mindset or the street that can overpower their own personal limitations.” We believe that Avital and the Soteria Method can help women live their lives without fear.

We look forward to the impact we can make in empowering women through the STRIKE event and our partnership with Avital. We hope you’ll join us on January 21st!


Redefining Gender Stereotypes

  The Fearless Girl statue  in NYC wearing a VTM Foundation hat, July 2017

The Fearless Girl statue in NYC wearing a VTM Foundation hat, July 2017

We are on a mission to reduce the objectification of women prevalent in our society, which we believe will help reduce violence and harassment against women. Children are exposed to gender stereotypes as early as infancy and grow up surrounded by our society's harmful gender biases throughout adolescence and adulthood. Our focus to redefine gender stereotypes and eliminate toxic masculinity addresses these issues directly. The most tangible way we can make an impact is by investing in youth programs that teach boys and girls these significant issues and help them advocate for gender equality. We’re proud to partner with Tutoring Plus and Girls Inc., both experts in this space.

Proceeds we raised from our early fundraising efforts directly supported the two gender programs at Tutoring Plus: Girls’ Media (for middle school girls) and Real Talk (for middle school boys). These programs focus on breaking down stereotypes and toxic masculinity, and also promote empowerment. Vanessa was an avid volunteer at Tutoring Plus during her time in Boston, so this organization holds a special place in our hearts.

In 2018, we are excited to begin a partnership with Girls Inc, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Our partnership will focus on two of their after school programs, Project BOLD and Media Literacy. The programs are designed for girls between ages 9-14. Project BOLD focuses on violence prevention, conflict resolution skills, and self-defense. Media literacy teaches young girls the tools they need to critically examine the harmful gender stereotypes the media portrays. By learning to analyze the media's messages, girls are equipped to challenge and redefine gender biases prevalent in our society. With these critical safety awareness and media literacy skills, we believe girls will be able to live boldly and fearlessly.   


Changing our Culture of Objectification

 Vanessa and cousin Caroline at Falmouth Road Race, August 2014

Vanessa and cousin Caroline at Falmouth Road Race, August 2014

“The first time I remember being catcalled was when I was with Vanessa, walking down a street when we were in our early teenage years. To think that we were barely high schoolers and already had an uncomfortable experience around men is pretty unsettling. As adults, we often had conversations about gender inequality, whether it was talking about moments at work when we experienced sexism or sharing a story about feeling unsafe walking home at night in NYC. Vanessa would be so proud and impressed with our hard work during the most difficult year of our lives. I know she would also feel so honored that thousands of people have joined our fight for a world where women live boldly and fearlessly.” - Co-founder Caroline Tocci

We’re proud of all we’ve done since our establishment, but we know we still have a lot to do in order to change our culture of objectification. Please take a minute to hear more about our future plans and vision for the foundation in our blog post. Thank you for supporting our cause- we’re endlessly grateful!

The 'why' behind STRIKE for Vanessa


Losing Vanessa was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. She was my college roommate and one of my closest confidants, and I walked around for weeks and months following her death battling a mix of disbelief, anger, and despair. While dealing with the shock and pain of her attack, I suddenly became terrified to go anywhere alone--daily occurrences like a short run around my neighborhood or an uber ride suddenly felt cripplingly hard. But I also developed a subconscious fear, one that crept below the surface but was debilitating nonetheless: The world had suddenly become a terrifying place.. As someone who had previously looked at the world through rose colored glasses, this shift felt debilitating.

To empower myself, I tried searching for self-defense experts that taught practical techniques. While there are countless resources available, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing from the teachings that I stumbled upon. My biggest qualm: I could learn all the moves and mantras available, but I had an innate fear that if I ever came face to face with an attacker, I would freeze up. How would any mat tutorial protect me if I was paralyzed?

My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa’s spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Several months later, I started talking with a friend at a BBQ in San Francisco. We hadn't connected in a while, and she asked me if I was familiar Avtial Zeisler, the founder of the Soteria Method -- a unique practice of self-defense, fitness and empowerment for women. As soon I got home, I watched Avital's Ted X Talk. "Does fear of violence, fear of being victimized, or fear of anything for that matter prevent you from living your best life?" Avital asks in her opening. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Avital describe her own attack, and the method that she has created as a direct result of it. Her story not only resonated with me profoundly, but I was moved by her practical approach to self defense that went so much deeper than the mat. I knew that I had to do everything in my power to connect with Avital and hear more about her journey.

After reaching out via email,  I secured a phone call with Avital, and our connection was instant. Not only had she heard Vanessa's story, but she had commented to Good Morning America in the wake of Vanessa's attack, providing some practical safety tips for women looking to protect themselves while jogging. From our very first phone call, Avital was committed to partnering with the VTM Foundation, and although neither of us knew at the time what that might look like, we began holding bi-weekly phone calls with Caroline Tocci and Ashey McNiff, the VTM Foundation's co-founders. We realized that although our stories were different, our single focus was completely in sync: To touch as many women as possibly would with Avital's method and Vanessa's story. From this guiding principle, our annual mega-event was born.

Our first event in partnership with Avital, STRIKE for Vanessa, will be held on January 21st at Boston University, my and Vanessa's alma mater. Avital will tell the story of her attack first hand, teach the fundamentals of her STRIKE self-defense method, and empower women to use tools they already have to take self-defense into their own hands. My favorite part of Avital's technique is that it ends with a  visualization to cement the learnings, where women are challenged to picture a potential attack and formulate a hypothetical reaction. This practice of meditative visualizing can prevent the "freeze" that so many women experience after being attacked, and help them develop an authentic survival mindset or the street that can overpower their own personal limitations. 

Vanessa's favorite thing was to tell me about all the different ways she was going to change the world. Not a day goes by that I don't mourn the loss of not only my best friend, but all that she was going to do for humanity.  My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa's spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Please consider joining us early next year as we STRIKE for Vanessa on January 21st at Boston University, a 2-hour workshop brought to you by Reebok Boston. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit our event page: