Charlotte Willis lists her top ten vegan athletes, along with why they're so awe-inspiring.
A new breed of strong, successful and empowered athletes are emerging. Following a plant-based diet and gaining worldwide sporting success, each vegan sportsperson has their own inspiring journey and reasons for choosing to fuel their bodies the right way. Even the most die-hard meat-eaters can’t deny the incredible abilities and strengths of these individuals.
1) Molly Cameron
Molly specialises at professional cyclo-cross racing, an intense form of cycling where athletes have to at times carry their bikes over obstacles too difficult to overcome in the saddle. Molly turned vegan fifteen years ago, the same time she began professional racing. Since making the change, Molly finds that her diet and health have changed drastically from convenience-store food to nourishing noms. She says: "if anything, eating organic and whole food keeps my energy level and mental focus consistent. It is the logical step when living a super active and conscious lifestyle.”
Fun fact: Molly is the only trans athlete to have won Cross Crusade Singlespeed Series, in 2004 and 2011. She also runs two businesses in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, including a 100% vegan bike shop!
2) Jehina Malik
Jehina has been a competitive bodybuilder since she was 19 years old – and vegan since birth! There’s nothing like starting young, and Jehina’s rare status means she is likely the only vegan-from-birth in the profession. Having won the 2013 NPC Eastern USA Bodybuilding Championships in the lightweight category, Jehina aims to be placed in the top 5 in the USA.
Fun fact: Jehina actually began life with a smaller build. “I grew up skinny and small, and having so many naysayers.”
3) Tim Shieff
Tim is a professional free-runner, which involves running and jumping over obstacles (as well as leaping between buildings) in an urban environment. Winner of the 2009 World Freerunning Championships, Tim turned to veganism due to his beliefs in animal liberation. Tim's vegan diet also provides health benefits, such as a “burst of energy and enthusiasm” in training. Previously suffering from tendonitis, Tim found that his vegan diet brought him stronger joints.
Want to know more? The Vegan Society featured Tim’s motivations for championing veganism and tips on keeping healthy in this blog.
4) Fiona Oakes
Vegan Society ambassador and elite marathon runner Fiona Oakes is a holder of 3 World Marathon titles and has completed over 40 marathons with a personal best of 2 hours 38 minutes.
Having begun her vegan journey when she was only six years old ‘for the animals’, Fiona describes veganism as her true passion in life. Fiona’s successes are even more impressive with the knowledge that she lost a kneecap as a teenager, causing her to experience constant pain when running. She does all this to promote an ethical vegan lifestyle: “veganism is everything to me. It touches every part of my life…my strengths as an athlete are that I am not an athlete for myself. I am doing it for the benefit of others, which makes me work much harder.”
Fun Fact: Fiona runs and works on her own animal sanctuary, Tower Hill Stables, home to over 400 ex-farm and domestic animals. She is also one of only 800 female firefighters on reserve in the UK.
5) Cam Awesome
Cam is an 8 time national super heavyweight boxing champion, and captain of the USA National Boxing team. After various obstacles in 2012, he fell short right before the 2012 Olympic Games. Following this disappointment, he was inspired by a fellow boxer in his local gym who he saw grow stronger and fitter on a plant-based diet. He says he “went vegan ‘cold Tofurkey’", and fell in love with the lifestyle after two weeks. Cam adds: "since being plant based, I am 23-0, winning 3 International Golds and 2 National tournaments and can thank my new lifestyle.” Cam now feels more agile and healthy with a shorter recovery time.
Fun Fact: Cam began his journey into sports to transform his previous ‘nightmare’ diet and lifestyle of fast-food and a lack of exercise, and now actively promotes the benefits of veganism as a motivational speaker.
6) Leilani Münter
Leilani is a professional racing car driver with a penchant for breaking records: the self-described ‘vegan hippie in a racecar’ finished 4th in the Texas Motor Speedway, breaking the record for fastest time for a female driver at the track. Leilani is also a passionate advocate for ethical and environmental concerns, and became vegan four years ago for sustainability reasons. “Everyone is focused on fossil fuels but more greenhouse gas emissions come from raising animals for food than all of the planes, trains, cars, trucks, ships, and all forms of fossil fuel based transportation put together.”
Fun fact: Leilani has raced in a car designed to look like an orca whale to highlight the unethical treatment of animals at Seaworld.
7) Tia Blanco
Tia is a 17 year old up-and-coming pro surfer, having been placed 3rd overall in the 2014 World Junior Surfing Championships, and winning the NSSA Southwest Women’s Under 18s season. Having been vegan for two years, Tia feels “more energised than ever before. I am rarely ever sore after my workouts. I also find myself reaching a higher athletic level.”
Fun fact: Tia is a serious fruit-fiend! She has a go-to juice to energize her body: “every morning I make a juice with banana, kale, chard, cacao, flax seeds, broccoli, frozen mango, berries, and coconut water.”
8) James Southwood
James became the World Champion at the 2014 Savate World Championships – a sport also known as ‘French Kickboxing’ – on World Vegan Day last year. This was quite a coup for James, who has been a staunch vegan for 19 years.
Fun fact: James was a previous employee at The Vegan Society and left to pursue his career as a professional athlete - setting a fine example to the whole biscuit-munching office!
9) Steph Davis
Steph is a world-leading climber, base-jumper and sky-diver, and is the only woman to have free-solo climbed a 5.11 grade mountain. Having been a vegan for 12 years, Steph began venturing into the lifestyle to improve her athletic abilities as a climber, and soon discovered veganism reached aspects of her whole life: “I have found that eating a vegan diet gives me optimum physical and mental awareness.” She also believes that going vegan has given her a better adaptive connection with her environment.
Fun fact: Steph was also the first woman to summit the 2685m icy peak of Torre Egger in Argentina.
10) Patrik Baboumian
Patrik famously won Germany’s strongest man in 2011 for the 105 KG weighting, becoming the first vegan to do so. Realising his previous diet contradicted his values for welfare and ethical treatment of animals, Patrik became vegan to remove himself from the whole animal industry. “Almost two years after becoming vegan I am stronger than ever before and I am still improving day by day."
Fun Fact: Patrik can also count amongst his achievements winning the European Powerlifting Championship in Finland 2012 for the Open category.
For more information on vegan athletes, check out Great Vegan Athletes.
By Charlotte Willis
Are you a vegan athlete mixing athleticism with your activism? Get in touch to share your story via web[at]vegansociety[dot]com.