You may recognise Vanessa Haywood from her career as a model and actress, most notably as Wikus’ wife in the blockbuster movie District 9. The beauty, who hails from Mpumalanga and now lives in Cape Town, is a former finalist in both Miss South Africa and Miss Fitness. However, you won’t find Vanessa in the studios that much anymore. The outdoors is her new studio. Her love for the outdoors and adventure has seen her take on events such as the Big 5 Challenge, Absa Cape Epic, Totalsports Challenge, XTERRA, Cycle Tour, Otter Trail Run, Wines2Whales and Double Century. She manages to do all this in-between training, working as an MC and running her own marketing and events company. Trail running sensation Ryan Sandes also happens to be her man… talk about a fit household!
After shooting District 9, are prawns still on the menu?
(Laughs) Always! I love seafood!
How close to you is Ryan on a bike?
Not too far behind… (laughs) He’s an incredibly strong athlete so he features really well on the bike. He may need some technical training though.
Are you and Mr Sandes competitive with each other?
Not really. I mean we have some banter when it comes to mountain biking but I dare not even attempt to be competitive on the running side. I will lose! He’s incredibly supportive of what I do and we have done a few events together, one of which was this year’s Totalsports Challenge. We had an absolute blast!
What is it that you love about mountain biking, running and multisport?
Simply being outdoors! When I’m surrounded by nature, I feel free. It’s like my religion and it’s where I connect with our maker. I love being surrounded by other athletes – whether they are novices or pros, the build-up to races and the planning, the hard work and training that has to be put in order to compete, the atmosphere at races, the friendships made through sport… Sport unites and I love that!
Why did you decide to become a fitness athlete a few years ago?
I don’t think it was something I made a conscious decision about. I have always been sporty and I feel empty when I’m not training for something or just doing something active. Being active makes me feel alive and I realised this in my late 20s. I started making more and more effort to train, race and make new friends in the sporting world. Sport is now my life and my career as an actress and television personality, even though I’m still very passionate about it, comes second. It’s a fickle world and one has very little control over what happens in it but in the sporting world, things are very different.
“Sport unites and I love that!”
How do you juggle your modeling and acting career with all the sports you do?
At one stage I just had too much on my plate. The mountain biking season runs throughout summer as does the modeling industry season so it’s just too hectic trying to fit castings, auditions, photo shoots, training and sponsor responsibilities in. Trying to do everything is not constructive and you end up neglecting certain things. I like to give 100% of myself and no less. I still LOVE the camera and I try fit in some photo shoots and filming here and there. If I could somehow combine television and sport, that would be awesome.
Without fitness, where would you be right now?
Funniest thing to happen to you while racing or training?
I had the funniest crash at the ABSA Cape Epic last year. My partner, Clayton and I were flying down a jeep track road with speed bumps and drains and the very last one caught my back wheel… I landed on my front wheel, somehow unclipped both feet and with legs up in the air, shot into a protea bush which broke my fall. Clayton slammed on brakes, things went quiet and from the bottom of my protea bush, I stuck up my hand waving and laughing, and shouted “I’m fine Clay!” I think he got a bigger fright than me but other than a bruised ego and scratched leg, I was fine. Two guys were not so lucky and had just broken their collarbones at the same spot and were sitting a little way down the road waiting for an ambulance.
You have two younger sisters. Are they into cross-training as well?
My two younger sisters enjoy being active but both live in Gauteng and it’s not the easiest city in the world to do sport in. They keep fit by going to gym.
How does an active person such as yourself relax?
I don’t! (laughs) I enjoy going to the beach and to dinner with friends, taking Thandi our dog for walks, watching movies and reading. I also enjoy writing – I write for a few publications and it’s a great form of expression.
Originally published in the March/April 2013 issue