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.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book? First, is the importance of being who you are, and knowing that you are enough. If any person or institution tries to tell you that you are broken because you are not conforming to their idea of perfection, you must walk away and choose yourself first. That is the journey to healing and self-love. Second, I want to create a different narrative for people of color. After having all the odds stacked against me growing up, I was honored as the top EMBA in my class at Cornell. I worked for Bloomberg, Gartner, and now LinkedIn; I would say I’ve had a very successful story and career. However, I still experience racism in corporate America today; despite society’s progress against racial injustice, we have much more work to do. As people of color, we have to remember who we are. We are standing on the shoulders of giants; our ancestors were ancient keepers of wisdom. We come from empires; systemic racism has been put in place to make us forget this. It is our responsibility to understand our history, to know our worth, and to wake up to our greatness. Lastly, I want to convey the liberating power of forgiveness. My grandmother’s passing sent me on a journey looking for meaning in a higher power. This ultimately led me to an ayahuasca ceremony in Costa Rica, where I was guided through one of the most difficult, powerful experiences of my life. The medicine took me back to the moment when I was a young girl outside school, waiting for my mom to show up. I wept like I never had before; as a child, I never cried or processed this. We carry unprocessed trauma as adults, which can create many issues in our lives. At the end of the ceremony, the shaman told me to give whatever was in my heart. I said my father's name, and I said, “Forgive him, for he did not know what he did.” I moved on to everyone, everything that I thought had ever hurt me and forgave them. That experience granted me the freedom to live my best life. Community was the main facet of your growing up in Ecuador, and the Mormon Church focuses on community as well. Since you left the church, how have you found similar breadths of community within other areas of life?
I call myself a world citizen. I am part of a worldwide spiritual community focused on achieving higher consciousness. These are the people that I connect with most and they come from all walks of life. There is a huge awakening around the world with people from every level of professional experience, race, and religion. The essence of what connects me to others is this universal spiritual awareness that we share through mutual ceremonies and practices. Your LinkedIn live show 30 Minutes of Wisdom focuses on rising in consciousness. How has your relationship to consciousness evolved alongside your spiritual journey? One of the important parts of spiritual transformation is integration. Once you have this big awakening, you cannot just come back to your old ways; you have to change. There has to be alignment between what you believe and how you show up in the world, including your behavior, thoughts, and actions. I work to integrate all the pieces of my life. Mindfulness is key; I meditate every morning and write an intention of how I want to show up that day. Lately, I’ve also been thinking about who I want to serve each day. Meditating is about going inwards, which is beautiful and powerful. But you then need to translate that into how you can create goodness for the external world. You are in the early stages of creating a holistic healing center; what is your vision for that space? During the pandemic, I had an opportunity to return to Costa Rica and reconnect with my spiritual community. I visited this beautiful place called Samara Beach and ended up purchasing a good portion of a nearby mountain. It is located in one of the blue zones, which are the five areas in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. I want to create a place for people to tap into ancient spiritual wisdom, such as meditation, yoga, sound healing, etc. It will be a place to connect to Mother Earth, and to oneself. Considering your physical and spiritual journeys, what would you consider to be the core beliefs that govern your life today? It is no longer a belief; it is a knowing that there is this higher divine, benevolent power; we can call it God. Additionally, it is knowing that everything in the universe works out for my good. Everything has a place to help me advance to the next stage of my conscious evolution. When you are able to accept people and their flaws, you can accept and move through the difficult circumstances that you face. For more information on Carrera’s story and work, please visit https://veronicacarrera.com.