Early in 2012 I started reaching out to vegan friends on twitter to ask them to share their testimonials. My hope was that by getting vegans to share their stories we could educate and inspire others and give people first hand accounts to replace perceptions or stereotypes. I’m incredibly grateful to those that have participated. Their stories speak for themselves! If you enjoy the series please let us know!
Over the past few years, I’ve been on a personal weight loss, running, and self-awareness journey that has transformed me, added years to my life, and given me a new outlook on life and health, as well as a new lifestyle. How did I get to this point in my journey? It all began with a mouse.
My family loves Disney World. I honeymooned there, and in 2005, when the kids were old enough, we started taking annual trips. Since then, we’ve gone each year for a few days. Just before Christmas 2006, my kids got the flu. We panicked. Headed to Disney on January 1, the last thing we needed was to have a sick family unable to go to Disney. Although we scrubbed our hands and coated ourselves in hand sanitizer, it failed, alas, and I awoke on Christmas Eve with a fever and chills and the flu. In an effort to get something, anything, to stave off this bug in order to travel for Christmas and to Disney, I went to the local medical clinic.
I knew something was wrong when four different people took my vital signs. Then a nurse entered the room with medication and told me to rest on the bed with the lights off. I had alarmingly high blood pressure (162/116), she said; high enough to possibly send me to the ER if it didn’t respond to medication. They stabilized my BP, and I rested in bed until after Christmas when I was put on BP meds. That incident shook me to my core. I’d really never felt mortal until the moment when I was told I was a stroke waiting to happen. I decided something had to change. I HAD to fix some things in my life. Mind you, I was active. I attended spin class twice weekly, yoga twice weekly, did aerobics and step classes as well, and I had just begun officiating soccer games. But I continued to eat loads of junk food and was lucky to maintain my weight (247 lbs) while slowly killing my body with the food I consumed.
You have to understand, I am a child of the American South. Butter and lard, and lots of it, finds its way in every dish. Want some green beans? You won’t get them without huge chunks of bacon or ham in them. My mother cooked burgers every Saturday night and fried chicken every Sunday lunch. And each subsequent day featured some form of beef or pork. My favorite meal? Burgers. All. The. Time. Vegetables? Sure. I loved them, as long as they were baked potatoes, fried potatoes, or mashed potatoes. What was the problem? Forty years of eating like that had taken a toll on my body. And I had tried and cheated on so many diets, eventually quitting on all of them.
I decided to start running. I had run some in college, and in high school I wrestled, so we ran all the time. But I had never formally trained for an event, ran a race, or given any serious thought to the sport at all. It was something I did as support for other athletic endeavors, or as punishment. I started running on the outdoor walking path of my health club. One mile felt like forever. My body had no clue what was happening as I struggled to finish a mile, then a mile and a half. But the strangest thing was happening. After the run, I felt alive! I could only muster 1.5 miles in the early days, but WOW, something was changing. And this new running consciousness was seductive and exhilarating. I devoured running blogs, researched running gear, and on a whim, signed up for my first 5K in April 2007. That first 5K was intoxicating, hard, tiring, and awesome. I wore my race shirt proudly. I wanted people to know I was a runner. I was hooked
This new running lifestyle, even as new as I was to it, was incredible. I slowly realized every stride was prolonging my life and helping me lose weight. I registered for three 5Ks in three months. I couldn’t get enough of that race accomplishment feeling. I laugh now when I think of it, but my brother-in-law, then training then for the LA Marathon, asked me if I’d ever consider running 26.2. I laughed at the question. “No way,” I said, “I’m a short distance man, marathons are crazy. You’d have to be nuts to run one of those!” (I’ve since run seven!)
Three months later, I approached a colleague about training me for the Disney Marathon! I had realized that I needed a bigger goal. On two of my earlier trips to Disney World, my family had been in the parks during Marathon Weekend. I got goose bumps just watching that! I set the January 2009 Disney Marathon as my goal, and spent the next few months building a mileage base while my friend Lisa wrote a plan designed to get me to the finish line.
Finishing the Disney Marathon was a life-changing thing. I didn’t run it fast (6:10), but my goal was to cross the finish line. I did, proudly and with tears streaming down my face. I had taken myself from borderline stroke candidate with “industrial strength” high blood pressure, and had completed a marathon. I floated for two months. I wore my marathon hat and shirt everywhere. I sipped coffee from the marathon mug. And I kept eating a lot.
But there was something missing from the equation. The early weight loss I had experienced when first starting running had stopped. I had even gained back a little weight. Long training runs became an excuse to eat to excess. My running stagnated, and I entered a funk that took six weeks from which to emerge. I needed some new direction, a new emphasis. I needed a more aggressive training plan and I needed to run another marathon. I also had to do something about my weight. I was 5’9” and in the 230s. Not the body weight most conducive to running growth.
So, in July 2009, with a marathon goal in place (Rocket City in Huntsville, Alabama) and a new eating plan (reduce meats and dairy, count calories, lose weight), I entered the late summer and fall with a renewed purpose. Enter a new friend, Megan, @veganrunningmom on Twitter. We had become friends through a podcast I used to produce (This Running Life), she was a listener from the beginning, and she offered to assist me with nutritional improvement, and with running growth. Through this process we became close friends. Her compassionate veganism taught me a lot about making good food choices.
I started to lose weight and my running times improved. I had greater stamina and my legs and joints weren’t as sore after long runs as they had been when I was heavier. I went into my marathon 27 pounds lighter than I was on July 20, 2009, the day I started my new nutritional lifestyle. Rocket City was amazing. Megan flew from California to support me, and she and my wife followed me along the course offering encouragement and support. I ran my marathon 40 minutes faster than the first. Solid coaching and a new eating lifestyle began to pay dividends in my life.
That was December 2009, and by the turn of the New Year I had become vegetarian. I no longer desired meat, and the amount of dairy I consumed was miniscule. The only thing keeping me from being a vegan was getting a handle on ingredients in common foods, such as bread. I had so much to learn about being vegan, but I had my friend Megan to help and show a compassion that makes vegans a rare and special sort of people.
By late March 2010, I became vegan. I felt so alive. Over a few months, I had gone from carnivore of the highest level to a vegan, with compassion for his own body, for the environment, and for his fellow earthlings. I now weigh 156 lbs and have lost 75 pounds since July 2009. Over the past 18 months, I’ve eaten more fruits and veggies than I did in my first 42 years of life. My cholesterol has dropped, I have more energy, I’m wearing clothing sizes I haven’t even thought of since high school, and my running has grown. And that blood pressure medication that I was told I’d have to take for the rest of my life? My doctor said I was a role model for my new lifestyle and he removed me from that junk. My BP is normal and I haven’t taken that medicine in 17 months! And I walk around with the pride that my footprint on this earth is a more compassionate one.
What I’ve found surprising since giving up animal products is that my palate has come alive. Foods that I once avoided like the plague (broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower) now appeal to me. I crave them. But as a guy, I’ve had a steep learning curve in preparing a variety of food. I’ve mastered the art of baked, sautéed, or stir fried veggies, and I can cook a mean bowl of quinoa. But I craved variety and new ideas in food prep. Enter vegan cookbooks and recipe blogs.
It has taken a while for me to wrap my head around what has happened to my mind, my body, and my outlook on life. As an endurance athlete I have found that the vegan lifestyle has not only assisted in weight loss and cardiovascular health, it also has fostered fast recovery from hard workouts and quickened the growth of my endurance. It has made me fitter and faster as a runner. I went from a 6:10 marathon time in January 2009, to a 3:28 in February of 2011. Veganism has been a central component of this growth. I feel more alive, happier, more self-aware than at any time in my life. I feel, well…cleaner, if that makes any sense.
While I became vegan through the health door, I have since embraced its concern for the environment and compassion to animals. I’ve experienced recent and remarkable encounters with horses, cows, sheep, dogs, and squirrels, even, that have left a profound mark on my heart, mind and soul. Realizing that I am but a small part of a larger world of living creatures is setting in and moving my soul in ways I never expected. On successive weekends last month, during long bicycle training rides, I stopped to snap pictures of farm animals; horses on one weekend, cows on the next. I stood by the fence, and a horse came up to me and let me pet her nose. She looked at me with those deep brown eyes and I felt moved in a way I’ve never experienced. I felt a kinship of a sort. I felt connected. I was grateful for the chance to touch a horse and to see her up close; something I don’t think we do enough of in our busy lives. That encounter shook me in a grand way and was another step in my sensitization to the plight of animals in our culture.
The next weekend, on another long ride in another part of my county, I stopped to snap a picture of a cow. But as I stood by the fence, six other cows came up to the fence alongside the first one. They looked at me. I looked at them. It was the most amazing thing. We just stared at each other. I kept thinking: “what is going on here, with these animals and me?” Were they thinking: “hey let’s go look at the funny human?” Or was there a deeper connection between us? Could they sense I was harmless? Did they know who and what I had become? I like to think it is the latter. That we ARE connected. That we all deserve a chance to live our own lives, whether animal or human.
Stuff like this I’ve never felt in my life. All similar to the thoughts I have about my kids. The emotional response I get when I see them just being themselves: loving, goofy, happy, sad. I am connected to them in a way that transcends reason. I’m starting to see the rest of world, especially fellow earthlings, in this light. These are heady times for me. There is nothing greater than a shift of consciousness, a profound life change. I’m in the midst of mine. So much fun. I am filled with joy, pride, and a sense greater connection a sense of self-worth I haven’t felt in my life.
You can follow Gordon on twitter @VeganG26_2. When you do, be sure to let him know you appreciated his story! You can also follow his blog, This Running Life.
If you’re feeling inspired and want to submit your own vegan testimonial please read this post. You can also read the interview Kasey Minnis (@veggiemightee) did with me about this project on This Dish is Veg.