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Made of Iron: Interview with Veronica Carrera

Veronica Carrera’s story is one of not only overcoming but rather triumphing over adversity. Following a tumultuous childhood, Veronica’s identity was challenged again as a young adult, when her sexuality was put in opposition to her Mormon faith. Despite completing her EMBA and finding great success within the tech and financial industries, it was her decision to train for an Ironman Triathlon that set Veronica on her spiritual transformation. Her book, 140 Miles of Life: A Remarkable Journey to Self-Acceptance and Love, uses the tournament as a metaphor for her broader life story of excelling beyond the difficulties she faced. In training for the Ironman, Veronica learned physical lessons that became spiritual lessons, ultimately putting her on the path toward forgiveness, freedom, and healing. You were born and raised in Ecuador before being baptized into the Mormon Church as a teenager. What did your childhood look like before then, and what drew you to the Church? I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and grew up in a culture that was about connection, community, and education. I was raised by my single mom until one day when I was nine years old, she never arrived to pick me up from school. My mom was in a coma, and a few days later she died. As a child, I couldn't process what had happened, or the emotions that I was feeling. I transitioned to living with my grandma and had to just integrate back into regular life. At fourteen, I moved to live with my father and his wife in Miami. I was an excellent student but my arrival was very difficult for her, and my father became abusive. Wounded people wound others; he was a good man, just broken. I ended up taking myself to social services and was placed in a foster home. A teacher of mine helped me through this transition; she gave me my first Bible, which opened the door to this whole world of God, religion, and a bigger purpose. When my case went before a judge, my father asked me to return to Ecuador, rather than be adopted by another family. I went back, which is when I truly started my search for God and deeper meaning in life. One day I said hello to the Mormon missionaries in the street, and I was baptized six weeks later. What was your experience like as a student at Brigham Young University, regarding both your sexuality as well as your being one of the few people of color? The Mormon church believes that homosexuality is a crime punishable next to murder. Despite my devoutness, being gay was very difficult; my first girlfriend and I faced interrogations, could have been expelled and could have lost her visa or degree. I would try to ignore my feelings; I’d commit to celibacy because that's what the church wanted me to do. I kept walking away from people I loved because I thought that I would rather be alone than risk eternal pain. In the Book of Mormon, there is a prophet’s son named Laman who was rebellious towards his father; this led to God cursing him and his descendants with dark skin, or “skin of blackness.” This story is part of the dogma of the Mormon Church; for instance, they teach that Native Americans are Lamanites, as they are cursed with dark skin. An early boyfriend and I were once at a conference when one of the Apostles, the ultimate authority, told me to marry my own race; that marriage was hard enough. We were the only mixed couple in the group, and I remember feeling so much shame. When I was on my mission prior to BYU, I visited a small town in Chile. There was a man of high authority in the region; as missionaries, we would go and visit their families. I was the senior missionary, and this man would not allow me to enter his home. He would not look at or converse with me, and he called me a Lamanite. Considering the world that we live in, how do you make sense of the Mormon Church’s stance on sexuality and race today? I am not here to speak negatively about the Mormon Church; I owe a lot of my values to them. I would never want to put all Mormons under one category, but they are dealing with an existential crisis. There are a lot of wonderful Mormon people with amazing hearts, who are sitting with a doctrine that doesn't fit into this new world. Many people have awakened to the fact that this is pure ignorance, yet still turn a blind eye to the issue. You are taught that walking away from these beliefs will destroy your life, on Earth and eternally. As a person of color, to question this doctrine requires you to question everything. What prompted you to compete in the Ironman Triathlon? I didn't leave my religion until I was in my thirties when I hit rock bottom and considered suicide. That day I was in Manhattan, weeping on my floor and praying to God. In moments like these, some people claim to hear voices. Internally, I heard this voice telling me, “Your life is so much bigger than the Mormon Church.” That was the turning point for me to find out who I was beyond my religion. Soon after, I was scheduled to run a marathon in South Africa. Following that race, someone approached me and suggested that I consider the Ironman. Training for that race required learning many physical lessons that became spiritual lessons in the process; 140 Miles is the length of the tournament, as well as a metaphor for what I went through in my life.