St. Louis Character: How Go! St. Louis' Mona Vespa keeps the region on the run – St. Louis Business Journal – St. Louis Business Journal

Mona Vespa likes to say she’s grown up at St. Louis nonprofit Go! St. Louis.
Vespa joined Go! St. Louis as a 19-year-old intern while attending Washington University. Today, she is the nonprofit’s president.
Go! St. Louis stages fitness events in the St. Louis region and hosts its signature event, the Go! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend each spring. Vespa is a runner herself, having completed several marathons.
Vespa became Go! St. Louis’ president in 2016, replacing founder Nancy Lieberman. In her tenure as president, Vespa has sought to put her own touch on Go! St. Louis and most recently navigated it through the Covid-19 pandemic, which canceled Go! St. Louis’ 2020 marathon and significantly altered this year’s event.
How did you end up working at Go! St. Louis? I ran in high school and in college for a bit. I had actually just done the Chicago Marathon and then heard St. Louis was having a marathon. As a college freshman, I went downtown to volunteer and worked at a water station and loved it. I was like “this is so cool.” I wrote a letter to Nancy Lieberman, who was our founder, and told her I wanted to be your intern. She called me on my dorm phone and she said “yeah, come in.” And legitimately the rest is history. I interned for her for the rest of my time at Wash U and just loved being there.
What has it been like following in the footsteps of someone that founded the organization? There’s two parts to that. Of course, getting the opportunity to have basically grown up in an organization, which is what I did. I was 19, I’m 40 now. You’re essentially like growing up in an organization and it was so cool to be able to step into that. That in and of itself is so cool. On the flip side, taking over from a founder is hard. You’re kind of like living through that legacy. Sometimes I joke in our office, I’m like “well, if 50% of the mail is still addressed to Nancy, it’s a good day.” That’s the way it goes. Overall, what a dream to carry on the organization’s mission and be able to kind of do things my way and differently. It’s just been really cool.
How did the pandemic impact operations? Like with every industry, it was rough. We of course scaled way back, beginning with the cancellation of the 2020 marathon, which we canceled 10 days out. We had four races during the pandemic, once we realized that we could do some really scaled back events, space people out and be outside the whole time.
The crowning achievement, at least for me, was that we actually put on a marathon this April. Man, was it a logistical nightmare, but we were able to work with the city to get 3,000 people running downtown, which was so huge to be able to pull off and people were so appreciative. I think we learned a lot this year and I think we also learned how important it was to find ways to keep people doing what they wanted to do. I think that was a really big thing for us organizationally. Like everyone, it’s just continually pivoting, pivoting, pivoting. I think I thought we were going to have to sit around and do nothing for awhile, and we did for a little bit, but I think once we realized in fall of 2020 that we could do something, it kind of became “OK, let’s use this model and see what else we can do.” It worked better than I ever would’ve thought.
You’re a runner. How many marathons have you run? I think the number is only seven or eight. Believe it or not, all of them were before I had kids. I have not run a full marathon since before I had a house full of children. I’ve run a couple of half marathons since then, but no full marathons. The training takes a lot of time.
How have you tried to put your own touch on Go! St. Louis? As I was transitioning into this role, the running industry was also changing. Like every industry, there’s a lot of competition, so you have to be constantly innovating. I also think there was this era, from 2008 to about 2012, when everyone was running half marathons. That was like the thing to do. But you know none of that lasts, so we all get left with this traditional road race not being the thing to do anymore. In the years that transitioned, I’ve made it a priority to think of more experiential opportunities. That’s what people want right now. I think they’ll continue to want that. I don’t think those are going to go away. It’s looking for experiences that combine running with community and going out with friends and doing things. We’ve really started expanding beyond just putting on a race on roads downtown or wherever. One of our events during the pandemic was a New Year’s Eve race at Cedar Lake Cellars out in Warren County.
What do you like to do in your free time? I have three kids who are at a super close age range. They are 11, nine and almost eight. The three of them, we do so much together. I love to throw my kids on bikes and they ride bikes next to me while I run and we go out and hike places and we’ve taken some fun trips. As a mom right now, like so much of this season of my life, parenting becomes your hobby and everything else you’re doing.
More about Mona Vespa
Title: President, Go! St. Louis
Hometown: University City
Age: 40
Family: Vespa has three children
Education: She has a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature from Washington University
Favorite place to run in St. Louis: “I will always give a giant plug for Forest Park, which is my home away from home and we as runners take for granted and are so incredibly lucky to have that place in our city, because it is just absolutely amazing.”
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Young professionals are a vital asset to the St. Louis region and the St. Louis Business Journal will again recognize all movers and shakers under 40 years of age (as of 11/01/21) in a special awards publication. Nominate by Friday, August 13, 2021.
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