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Ascending Athlete #3: Jessica Valenzuela

October 5th, 2009
Jessica getting ready to rip it up on her kiteboard

I’ve started a series called “Ascending Athletes”, which features people achieving great things in their lives and/or impacting the lives of others through athletics. I’m featuring athletes of all backgrounds, sports and skill levels. Everyone has a story to tell– whether a recreational or beginner just starting to work out or a hardcore athlete who is competing at an elite level. The goal of the Ascending Athlete series is to capture these stories and inspire others to seek similar challenges and rewards. If you would like to share your story or would like to nominate someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know. For more information about Ascend Sports Conditioning, visit our website.

Jessica Valenzuela

Ascending Higher is a conversation on multisport, and few people define the word multisport better than Jessica Valenzuela. Whether it’s ripping it up on her kiteboard (something even I haven’t tried yet, but would like to!) or cruising on her bike, Jessica is a multisport force to be reckoned with. I met Jessica through social media: I would see these super-cool updates on Twitter and Facebook of how she just finished a day of kiteboarding, or just got back from shredding some new snow on her snowboard. Those would be followed by updates of other adventures in her life– whether it be with her digital advertising agency, her life in the Big Apple, or reaching out to help her people of her native land, The Philippines. From those updates, I knew she would definitely qualify as an Ascending Athlete.

Recently, the Philippines was devastated by Typoon Ketsana and Jessica is helping to raise money for relief through The Point: Project Phillippines. If you are interested in donating, please visit the Project Philippines website.

Jessica also is an entrepreneur and has a fascinating professional background. When not kiteboarding, snowboarding, hiking or actively pursuing extreme sport, Jessica is a digital advertising visionary with a flair for creating and marketing global brands. She founded, and now serves as chief principal of Mavin Digital, Inc., a fun, nimble NYC boutique specializing in inspirational digital branding. Built on a 12-year career with well-known agency powerhouses like Y&R Wunderman, Tribal DDB and OgilvyAction, Jessica understands how to deliver meaningful brands from creative concept to execution and measurement. More importantly, Jessica brings industry know-how and virtual tenacity together to lead brands successfully into the digital world including online go-to-market strategies, digital advertising and marketing communications, as well as overall brand messaging. She offers a mobile “spitfire” team customized to fit each client program; and has worked on a variety of creative projects and ongoing branding campaigns ranging in size and scale for Kaplan Inc., Schering-Plough Inc., Novartis, Pfizer, Chevron, Philips, Hewlett Packard,, Cantor Fitzgerald and Accenture. Personalities have also turned to her insightful digital approach including well-known pop star Gwen Stefani. Jessica takes brands beyond traditional marketing boundaries with ease, and strategically maps brand approach to audience and successful outcome. The result is digital branding on a dime. Mavin Digital. Jessica also keeps an ongoing blog, Mavin Digital Mashup and recently released a new corporate reel for the brand. Check it out!

Jessica was kind enough to answer some questions and share some of her thoughts on what makes her an Ascending Athlete:

Why are athletics important to you?

As a child, the great outdoors and athletics were very much part of growing up. I recall flying paper kites, climbing haystacks and running with my boy cousins in the rice fields. Yes, I was the only girl in a family of nephews and was very much a little tomboy with Beatles style hair and freckles. Unusual to have a Filipina with freckles, then again I am not your typical Filipina. On the weekends, my stepdad and uncles would take us to the forest for hikes and to hunt wild birds. Our backyard was a source for big adventure! I’d climb this big tree called “aratilles” and harvest the tiny and sweet juicy fruit by popping them in my mouth before descending. When I learned to ride my bike at age 9, and after my homework and chores, I’d be gone for long hours and return at sunset. Summer camps during my teen years in the mountain region of Baguio City meant I was sent away for weeks to ride horses, play tennis and basketball, as well as mountain bike with fellow summer campers.

I’m a cosmopolitan girl with a sports heart! Today, if I were presented with the choice of kiteboarding, snowboarding or a long bike ride versus a visit to the Hamptons and laying poolside, or shopping in Soho, I would likely still choose my sport. Like my work as an entrepreneur, my outdoor adventures are a top priority!

What sports do you participate in?

I’ve tried more organized sports including tennis and softball. None of which appealed to me for the long-term. Somehow, free-form outdoor sports with the opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people is my cup of tea.

Kiteboarding is a very new sport for me. I started in July, clocked in at least 15 days in the water, with five of those days in poor wind conditions for a beginner. Kiteboarding is the most difficult sport I have ever participated in, but also one of the most rewarding. The sport requires a lot from you, including knowledge of equipment, wind conditions and environment, as well as the focus, patience and practice, practice, practice. The valley of tears can be long and will seem never ending, yet it is the best feeling of fulfillment once you’ve gained the skills to perform the basic tasks and consistently repeat it, then progress to the next level. I still recall the moment I first got up and ride. It was beautiful! I owned that moment. It is almost like being an entrepreneur, you learn something new every day, and the reward is exhilarating. This is why I find the sport so attractive and appealing.


I am entering my third season of snowboarding. I am a natural tropical person, yet somehow I love playing in the snow! It is such a magical element I can’t get enough of it when winter comes. I learned to ride in the East Coast mountains, which in itself is challenging due to icy conditions. I took at least five days of lessons and on my fifth day was taken at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain to ride down a green. It was the longest two hours of my life, falling on my behind, pushing up and lifting myself out of snow as I tried to connect on turns. It paid off! By riding with more advanced snowboarders, I pushed my boundaries and learned to ride double blacks in my first season. By my second season, I was riding moguls with confidence and ease. I also learned to weave in and out of trees. The most memorable ride last year was a hike up back of chair 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado. It gave me a taste of semi-backcountry with the winds howling and riding in deep, deep virgin powder felt like gliding across clouds.

Road biking is my city sport and when it works out logistically I bike to my appointments around Manhattan. I do love riding around Prospect Park for a few laps which could be from as little as 3 miles or 12 miles.

Last year, hiking was big on my list. I hiked Whiteface Mountain and a number of smaller yet challenging trails. It was my first biggest mountain to hike ever and was thrilled I had the opportunity to do it. I hope to hike a big mountain this fall while the leaves are changing, though my passion for kiteboarding seems to take precedence over my road biking and hiking adventure these days.

What is your major athletic goal(s)and/or events you are participating in for this year?

Kiteboarding is a sport that you can practice all year-round depending on how willing you are to travel for it. Consistency and building my confidence level handling a kite in high winds while riding the board is what I am aiming for right now. To advance, I need to work on transitions, going upwind and then hopefully have an opportunity to do a downwinder with my fellow kiter friends! Perhaps add a few jumps to the list. It all sounds simple on paper, but it is not especially since this is my first water sport. The most I did prior to kiteboarding was swim in a pool. So this is a pretty major step for me.

For snowboarding, this season, my goal is to ride backcountry and try a few new mountains including Jackson Hole and a few notables in the Rockies.

As far as events go, perhaps in my fourth season of snowboarding I would like to free ride for a charity. For kiteboarding, I have far bolder plans beyond participating in an event. With a partner and co-founder who is also a kiter, I hope to help launch a platform that will support the kiting movement and its community members. We’re at the very early stages of planning at the moment.

Why have you chosen this goal(s)?

I believe in giving back and sharing my passion to those who will take it to the next level and pay it forward. I find so much joy, freedom and blessing in being an entrepreneur and in my sports. I believe that investing my time to snowboard for a charity and to create a platform that supports the kiting movement will help influence women from any ethnic background, culture and age to push beyond their boundaries. There are no boundaries. The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself.

What are some future goal(s) or event(s) you’d like to participate in?

I’m working on that now, and currently I am considering the Mai Tai snowkite camp in Utah in February and the original Mai Tai camp in Maui in May. The camp is hosted by VC and kiter Bill Tai and professional kiteboarder, Susi Mai. Majority of the attendees are tech entrepreneurs from the San Francisco area, though the event is gaining momentum and recognition outside of the Bay Area.

What impact has your athletics had on the lives of others?

The passion I have for learning and indulging in my sports strengthens my tenacity as an entrepreneur. I am full of new ideas, creativity and drive. My sport interests teach me to be a consistent, strong finisher. This is an important lesson we all have to endure in any of the choices we make in our lives. When a mountain bend turns into an unexpected steep filled with moguls or when the kite all of a suddenly crashes in the deep water, you don’t give up. You take a deep breath, focus and carry on. Learn and have fun while doing so!

Name one interesting fact or story that makes you unique and interesting

I think that my diverse ethnic background, cultural experiences, gender and age speaks volumes of my point of view and the recognition that everyone has potential regardless. Give people the opportunity to screw you, they will. Give people the opportunity to blossom, they will.

I am a strong independent woman who immigrated to the United States. I am of strong will, character and mind, and it’s what has carried me this far today. It is about finding the people who will appreciate and genuinely be there to support the change that you believe can happen.

I am a woman that doesn’t shy challenges, especially in a male dominated world of extreme sports. In fact, I am used to it since I led and am growing an organization that is predominantly supported by talented and creative men.

Thanks to Jessica for all her dedication, hard work and inspirational story– she truly is an Ascending Athlete!

To learn more about Ascend Sports Conditioning, our mission, focus and dedication to helping people ascend to new levels through athletics, please visit

The Case for Winter: Multisport at it’s Best

January 28th, 2009

gary-ice-climbingI’m a huge fan of the winter. It’s a great time to diversify your workout routine, get outside and explore. I have many friends and colleagues who don’t like winter, mainly because they choose to hibernate. (Hibernation is for bears). I also have many friends (and some clients), who continue to do the same activities they do in the summer, except they do it indoors on a machine. Don’t get me wrong– it’s important to continue to train your sport year round depending upon what your goals and objectives are (I myself spend lots of time on my bike trainer and in the pool during the winter), but at the same time, it’s important to supplement those workouts with other activities to challenge your body in new ways, vary up your normal activities thus making it more interesting, as well as take advantage of the conditions are around you. There’s no better opportunity to do so than the winter.

If you’re a triathlete, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or any other type of endurance athlete, here are some ideas for winter outdoor activities that you can do:

1. Nordic skiing– There’s possibly no better exercise in the winter for endurance athletes. Nordic skiing is a low-impact, full-body workout where it’s easy to manage the intensity levels. I prefer skate skiing since I like the motion and the speed, but classic cross-country skiing is also fantastic. In the winter, I substitute some of my runs with cross country skiing. I also continue to run in the winter, but find skate skiing a good way to break up the routine as well as give my body a break from the pounding of running.

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

2. Hiking/snowshoeing– Winter hiking is much more fun than the summer. Not only do you not have the black flies, but there are also fewer people around, not to mention that hiking in the winter is much easier on the body since the snow pack is soft (not hard, like the rocks you typically hike on in the summer). Winter hiking is an aerobic endurance workout, but also an anaerobic endurance workout, especially if you are carrying a pack going up steep terrain. I will often intentionally load up a heavy pack, find a steep mountain (typically in the White of New Hampshire) and feel my hear rate go up and my glutes burn up as I take steps up the peak. While you can choose to go hiking up a mountain, you don’t necessarily need to be gaining vertical height in order to go hiking in the winter. There is great hiking in many cities, mainly in parks. In fact, my wife (in the photo) and I went out for a snowshoe today in Great Brook State Park, which is right outside of Boston. We got a great workout on relatively flat terrain.

Leslie snowshoeing-- great winter workout for endurance atheletes
Leslie snowshoeing– great winter workout for endurance atheletes

3. Backcountry skiing– One of the best (and most fun) winter activities is backcountry skiing (skiing at a resort is okay if you conditions in the backcountry aren’t good). Backcountry skiing develops your aerobic endurance (since most of the time you need to skin up what you’re going to ski down), as well as your strength and balance on the run down (particularly in the backcountry where there are more obstacles you need to manuever around). Living in New England, it’s a bit tough to find great backcountry ski conditions, and when you do, it’s a limited window, so I don’t go as much as I’d like. However, when I do, it’s always a fantastic adventure, and one where I come back exhausted and exhilirated.

4. Ice climbing– “What?!”, you say, “ice climbing?!”. Yes, ice climbing. And, no, it’s not as dangerous as you think. Of course, you need to understand the basics of climbing and how to safely climb. Once you have mastered that, ice climbing is a fantastic aerobic endurance (yes, aerobic), as well as anaerobic endurance workout. Ice climbing develops core strength and balance, as well as forces you to sharpen your mental skills and stamina (many claim that ice climbing is 80% mental). In the winter, I try to ice climb once a week, not only because it’s a great workout, but also it gets you outdoors and to places you wouldn’t otherwise see (such as the ice-filled ravines of Mount Washington, NH).

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

I’ve listed just a few activities you can do in the winter– there are certainly many others. What winter outdoor activities do you like?