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Slice and Pryce #05: Service, Sustainability, and NIL with Vanessa Pearl

Former UF swimmer, Vanessa Pearl, shares her experience while swimming for the Gators, the reason for her medical retirement, her experience in the NIL space, and her passion for projects like Ocean Cleanups.

Episode Outline

  • Meet Vanessa
  • Finding shared values in NIL
  • Retiring from swimming
  • Marine sciences and sustainability
  • Tips for impactful partnerships

Samantha Buttrey: What's going on guys? Today, I am joined by former UF swimmer, Vanessa Pearl. Vanessa, you have an incredible story. Thank you so much for joining me. I can't wait to share it. But first and foremost, I am wearing a Go Heart hat in honor of your partnership with the company. Vanessa, in Florida Trend's June magazine issue, which you were the cover of, slight flex, you discussed your experience in the NIL space. You mentioned how you found it difficult to land deals on your own, so you started joining marketplaces to land deals like your Go Heart partnership. But what I find interesting behind your partnerships is your drive to tie a positive message behind it. Vanessa, can you tell me about the impact behind your Go Heart deal and other projects that you've worked on like 4ocean?

Vanessa Pearl: Yes. So one of my goals when we started NIL I think two years ago now, I wanted to make sure that I only participated in brands that I felt like I could fully support and that I felt good supporting and that I would recommend to others, not just to get a little bit of cash and then move on. I wanted to make sure that they value the same things that I value. And so one of the brands being Go Heart hats, I love the fact that they donate a percentage of their proceeds to whatever charity we want to donate to and the message, "Be kind," has three folds. So be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and then be kind to the planet. And that has a whole... I can go into talking about that for a very long time, but that's a simplified version of it. And then with 4ocean, I'm really big into sustainability and I really want to reduce climate change and ocean plastics as well.

Samantha: Well, behind these two projects, I saw the foundation that you chose is an animal shelter, if I'm correct, that you worked at or volunteered at in high school, is that right?

Vanessa: Yeah. So in high school we had this program called Green Cord and basically you would get a green cord on your graduation gown if you got 100 service hours. And so I chose to work with, it's called A Different Breed organization, it's a rescue organization for just dogs. And I worked there for about a little over a year, two years, and I did 200 service hours with them. And that really helped include... It helped me learn a lot about these animals, but then also I was able to socialize them and be able to get them to good homes. And it just made me feel really good and so I wanted to give back to them again because I have it in a while.

Samantha: All right. You're responsible. And I guess you care for the animals, so that makes sense. Vanessa, with 4ocean you wrote that you're going to schedule your own ocean cleanup. Any update on that?

Vanessa: I'm still working on it. I'm trying to figure out logistics of where and when I want to do it, but definitely within the next couple of months, I really want to.

Samantha: That's exciting. I'll be looking forward to keeping up with that update. Ton of success at UF, two time school record holder, former national team member, but after 16 years of perfecting your craft, you were forced to medically retire. Vanessa, tell me about this 16-year journey, what you learned and what ultimately led you to make this decision.

Vanessa: So a lot, a lot of things. I won't go too in detail because, again, I can talk about that for hours. But swimming is definitely a part of who I am, I still consider myself a swimmer, even though I no longer compete. But I've learned so many things and lifelong lessons from swimming that you just can't learn outside of athletics. And I think it's very important that you can be in a team environment and you care about something more than just your own personal accomplishments, but also the teams. And then second, the funny... I think it's really ironic and it's kind of funny to me, but after 16 years of swimming, I've always had some health issues. I've been very open about I've got chronic migraines, and so at some point they were really, really bad, but then I got over them and I was able to deal with them a little bit better.

Vanessa: But then I was diagnosed with chronic sinusitis and basically I would just get sinus infections all the time. I would have sinus infections for two, three months. I would go through multiple rounds of antibiotics and they would just not get better. And then leading up to Olympic trials this past year in '21, I got the worst sinus infection I've ever had in my life. It was terrible. I was warming up in the competition pool and I couldn't see. I couldn't breathe. I would do a flip turn and the pressure in my head was just insane. And then very stupidly, I continued to swim. I raced three out of four of my races. And then the last day I was like, "I can't. I can't do this again."I've always thought that your sinuses are just open spaces, but they are not, they have bones and cartilage and different stuff inside of them and then some people have more than others. And so I had a lot of different walls and structures in my forehead, and basically every time that I would get sick, something would get up there and then it would stay up there because it couldn't drain.

And so I had my first surgery in around August and basically he went and scooped everything out, pulled it out and then I had more space. And so I took probably about two weeks off of swimming after that and then I finally was able to get back in the water, swim for 20 minutes a day for a week. Within three days, I got another sinus infection. And so then my surgeon decided to have another surgery and he fixed my deviated septum.

And after the second surgery, I took a month off to make sure that everything heals and then I got back in the water. Within three days, I got another sinus infection. And so we deemed that after 16 years of swimming, I'm allergic to chlorine.

Samantha: No way. How devastating was that?

Vanessa: I mean, it was frustrating, but I've already done so much and I've swam 16 years. And the fact that I could even do those things with being sick constantly is even more impressive to myself and I'm proud of what I'd done. I felt like even though I had no control of when I finished, everything happens for a reason and I'm happy with what I've done.

Samantha: Well, Vanessa, I've been dying to know, because I've been seeing on Instagram that even though you've been going through all of this, you're still in the ocean and you've still been snorkeling a lot. So I guess what you just said makes sense that it's more of the chlorine, but are you not affected in the ocean?

Vanessa: Not at all. So it's really interesting. So I am a marine science major. So my life revolves around water, whether it be in a pool or for my degree, or I also really love fish tanks and aquariums. I have one baby one right here.But I recently got my scuba diving license and in the fall I'm going to be getting my advanced and scientific diver because I would like to do that as a job, I'd like to do go down scuba diving and collect corals or different types of data for research purposes. I think that would be really fun. But I also really enjoy scuba diving and free diving, and in Florida we've got a bunch of different springs and so I've been able to go and travel around an hour or two hours and go and dive and every time, I'm totally fine, but if I step on a pool deck for two hours, I will get sick.

Samantha: Well, maybe that was meant to be then, because now you have a future in the ocean. That's very exciting. Vanessa, after your experience in the space, what is one mistake student athletes should avoid in the NIL space?

Vanessa: I think that people should be careful on not jumping into something too fast because I think it's really important to understand what you're representing and be proud of the brand that you are representing before you just jump in. And also to make sure that it's a good deal on both ends. When I was reaching out before MarketPryce to other brands, I had a hard time to get a deal that would make sense. It either was too much on my end or not enough on my end and I wanted to make sure that everyone was treated fairly and everyone was getting a just trade. But just being aware that it is a contract you are in, you're very in... I just don't want to say you won't get stuck. You don't want to get stuck with certain deals that you're not proud of. But other than that, it's been a really, really easy process and MarketPryce has made it so much easier to contact brands, and even brands that I really, really, really wanted to be a part of before NIL was even a thing.

Samantha: I love to hear that. So Vanessa, you did make a lot of extremely impactful partnerships with these brands, any potential to stay with them post-sports, post-graduation? Is there a future with any of these collaborations?

Vanessa: Yes. So I would actually love to. 4ocean is one of the ones that I really, really do love and I've loved them for years and I'm wearing one of their bracelets right now. But I love their idea and their purpose behind the project, and hopefully one day I will be able to work for them. I think that would be really fun. And then also Pela is one that I wanted to work with, they make compostable phone cases. And so I hope one day I can include marine science and NIL deals and hopefully my platform will help me get those things.

Samantha: I love to hear it. Well, we'll definitely be watching for that. But with all your experience, what's one valuable lesson you've picked up growing your personal brand and landing these marketing deals?

Vanessa: Just to be myself and not try to be something that I'm not and I really just think it's that simple. And just being open with the brands and asking questions, and if I'm unclear about something, I'll ask. And it's really easy to communicate with these brands through marketplaces as MarketPryce as well, because it's a really nice setup where these brands really do want to communicate with athletes and it's a little bit harder on the other side of just what I was doing before, which was emailing brands or DMing them on Instagram and it's just another person in their inbox, versus them that they're trying to reach out to somebody.

Samantha: Well, I love it. Vanessa, thank you so much for your time. Good luck with everything. I can't wait to watch you on Instagram with all your snorkeling and scuba diving. Thank you for your impactful messages and sharing all of your personal stories here with us. I am not going to be the only one that thinks that this was inspiring. I'm also mind blown that your last name is Pearl and you love the ocean. I think that's just so cool. Maybe it's meant to be.

Guys, give her a follow @vnessapearl on Instagram and just stay tuned with her, she's got a lot to come. Thank you so much, Vanessa.

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