I get asked from time to time how I came to be a vegan endurance athlete and reflected on this subject during my run this morning so I thought I would share my journey with you.
I know other triathletes that grew up swimming and running so it was a natural path for them to get into triathlon. I dabbled in team sports when I was younger but didn’t find my niche so I cheered through middle school, high school and college. Outside of cheering I participated in fitness of the time such as rollerblading, Tae Boe, Denise Austin and 7 minute abs! I struggled with anorexia and bulimia through my teenage years so exercise for me was more of a way to burn calories as I wasn’t in tune with what being healthy really meant other than the numbers I was interpreting on the scale. In college, I got certified as an aerobics instruction and taught aerobics at the YMCA. I grew up on the standard American diet of boxed, canned, frozen and fast foods (no offense Mom, loved your tuna hot dish with baked beans!). I experimented with vegetarianism during college but it was more of a phase for me so at some point went back to eating meat.
When I moved to Minneapolis after college I continued to go to a gym for workouts and added in power walking. My significant other, Matt, became a vegetarian so I started eating more plant based at home but still ate animal products when I would eat out. Matt wasn’t active when we first met but I am so fortunate that throughout our years together he has always been open minded on trying new things together. We are fortunate that we have evolved and grown together. Many of our friends call us Team Swanson!
In 2001, we moved to San Diego and ditched the gym membership since we could exercise outside year round. I loved hiking Torrey Pines, power walking along the beach and jogging the beach stairs. A friend also introduced me to yoga which was a tipping point for me in starting to really understand what holistic health and body awareness was all about. I am so thankful for the time on my mat to realize this important life lesson!
My husband was really interested in getting into road cycling. I was apprehensive as a coworker had lost his life after getting hit by a vehicle while out riding. I decided there is risk in everything so in the Fall of 2003 we went out and bought our first road bikes and have been hooked ever since! We joined a cycling club and were so fortunate to meet such wonderful people that we are still friends with today. It was also a great way to get to know San Diego by exploring so many different areas. From 2003 to 2006 I did several century rides (100 miles in a day) and also a double century (200 miles in one day).
In 2006, I was trying to figure out stomach issues I was having. After a lot of tests and trial and error I realized I had become lactose intolerant. My husband had been a vegetarian for about five years and I ate mostly vegetarian at home so in my nature of diving into things (as one friend recently said I am “disciplined”) I decide to adopt a vegan diet since there isn’t any dairy (wasn’t a lifestyle yet) and went raw vegan for 9 months starting at the end of 2006. During these 9 months I felt amazing! My stomach problems went away and people would tell me my skin was glowing and the whites of my eyes were clear and bright. I really enjoyed this way of eating too but wanted to incorporate cooked grains and beans into my diet so changed from raw vegan to regular vegan in late 2007.
The first couple years of my vegan diet I ate a lot of processed vegan products. As time has gone along and I have learned more about whole food nutrition and how to buy and cook vegan food, I eat mostly fresh food and don’t use many boxed/packaged vegan products. I think those products are wonderful for people starting to incorporate plant based nutrition and bridge the gap from the Standard American diet to a cleaner plant based diet.
Another tipping point that changed my vegan diet to a lifestyle was learning more and more about the food system of today and realizing with all the knowledge I have now that I could not go back to eating factory farm, mass produced animal flesh. I also have heart disease and pancreatic cancer in my family so I might have genetics against me but I can control what I put into my body and how I treat it so I owe it to myself and my family to take care of myself. My vegan lifestyle extends beyond what I put in my body but also the types of products I buy. My consumerism has now turned into conscious buying decisions always keeping in mind where the products come from and if any animals were harmed in the production of the products. I still have leather products from past purchases and haven’t found vegan cycling products (shoes) but do my best to try to be as conscious as possible when I am going to buy something.
In 2007 I started itching for a new challenge outside of biking and was interested in trying out a triathlon. I wasn’t a swimmer and only dabbled in running with my first 10K being in NYC before a friend’s (the guy in the Dragon mascot suit above!) wedding so knew working on all three disciplines would be a way to push myself physically. When I set out to do something, I dive right in and completed two sprints and one Olympic distance triathlon in 2007 and was hooked! By mid 2008 I found my favorite triathlon distance with the half Ironmans (70.3 miles).
By 2009 I was up for more challenges so we decided to try a marathon. My husband also started doing triathlons so we thought a marathon would be a good test to see if we were tough enough and brave enough to sign up for our first Ironman! We survived the marathon so gathered the courage to sign up for our first Ironman (140.6 miles) that we completed in June 2010 and our second Ironman in September 2013.
In 2013, my husband wanted to transition from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle and is doing a great job! He has what he calls “transgressions” from time to time with dairy products but I think anyone’s effort, big or small, to incorporate plant nutrition, compassion and consciousness in their life is great.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to retrace my steps on evolving from a Standard American diet and regular exercise to a vegan endurance athlete lifestyle where I thrive on finding new physical challenges and adventures to live the fullest life!