Monday, March 25, 2013

My afternoon with Rich Roll (and Tim Ferguson)

Two greats and a girl
Last Tuesday I had to travel to Charleston to testify as an expert witness in hopefully my last case as a forensic analyst for Charleston Police Department. Luckily. my testimony was pretty quick and it was over soon enough for me to meet up with Rich Roll. A friend of mine and teaching extraordinaire, Dr. Martin Jones, has been working hard all year to get Rich to the College of Charleston campus. For the past year Martin has been tirelessly promoting a healthy plant based diet to the students and faculty on the campus. Martin, in many ways, has every right to. He responded to a family history of high blood pressure and the threats by a doctor to put him on medication by adopting a plant based diet. A vegetarian for many years, Martin cut out the over-processed vegetarian food of no nutritional value and filled his diet with fruits, vegetables, and food grains. He went from teetering on a blood pressure requiring medical intervention to pressure levels consistently hovering around 110/60. He was instrumental in the selection of "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer as the book of the year for The College Reads! program setting the stage where all the aspects of a plant based diet are to be put on display to encourage the students, faculty, and public to take an in depth look at its connection the population, health, sustainability, farming, and animals rights. Martin wanted to set aside the misconception that we need animal protein to live a healthy life and to perform as athletes. After reading Finding Ultra he sought out to bring one of the top 25 fittest men (according to Men's Fitness) to campus who only happens to subsist and perform on a completely plant based diet.

Since I finished up court earlier than I was expecting I was able to catch up with Martin and Rich as they walked over to set up the class room and lecture hall in the college's new science center. The freshman, specifically the freshmen athletes, have to take a course known as First Year Experience ("Freshman Seminar" back in my day) which is basically a course introducing the students to the campus, faculty, and each other. Finding Ultra was required reading for them so several of the students turned out to meet Rich and ask him questions about his training and diet. A training partner of mine, Tim Ferguson, also came down from Charlotte to attend the lecture. Luckily, he too came early so we had a good 30 minutes to shoot the breeze with Rich before the students arrived to pepper him with questions. As he sat before me, a former alcoholic, an ultraman competitor, an EPIC5 finisher, a lawyer, former Stanford swimmer, and proponent of a plant based diet, my head filled with questions while I simultaneously realized he is just a regular guy. A regular guy who has had to overcome obstacles. I guy who has had to balance work, training, a growing family, and good health.

Wait, where's the speedo?
You might be wondering who is this Rich Roll guy (or maybe you have already left my blog)? In a nutshell, Rich was an incredible swimmer with a lot of potential (he can to this day swim a 48-51 min 2.4 miler with little consistent training). He went to Stanford Univeristy on track to become one of their star swimmers and team captain. Unfortunately an addiction to alcohol ended his swimming career prematurely and sent him on a downward spiral that eventually caught up with him professionally and personally. With some outside intervention he finally got the help he needed and set his life back on course. He became a successful entertainment lawyer, a husband to a beautiful and supportive woman, and father to four wonderfully energetic children. Turning 40, Rich suddenly realized he had a great life but wasn't going to be around to enjoy it if he didn't take better care of himself. A fan of junk fast food, he first turned to a juice cleanse, then a vegetarian diet, and then ultimately embraced a plant based diet. He found himself interested in triathlon but took it one step further and started training for an ultraman. Needless to say he did pretty well and he continued to seek and embrace new physical challenges culminating in the completion of 5 ironman-distance races in the span of 7 days. Finding Ultra is not a I-am-vegan-hear-roar kind of book, it is a story with subtle messages about the power of the human body. It features the power of determination and inspiration, wherever they may come from. It is a book about setting aside what you believe you are capable of, or not capable of, and embracing everything you could be. 

A couple of years ago I read Brendan Brazier's Thrive; The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. Brendan Brazier is also a gifted endurance athlete who turned down the vegan path in pursuit of better health and performance. After the reading the book and seeing him speak locally at the Healthy Home Market I will confess I was not impressed. However, I do feel like Brendan Brazier, along with several others including Colin Campbell as well as Rip and Caldwell Esselstyn, helped to offer athletes a healthy alternative to their protein dense diets. If you are motivated by Finding Ultra, I highly suggest you read Thrive. Thrive takes Finding Ultra to the next level by providing an depth study of the nutrition behind a plant based diet and includes multiple recipes.  You will not find any recipes in Finding Ultra and the explanations behind the nutrition are short and sweet blurbs in the Appendix just to give you a quick insight into why he chooses the food he eats. Some people at the talk seemed disappointed by this but in my mind Find Ultra is not about nutrition. It is about finding yourself, making a change, and committing to your health and happiness. I did not get the impression Rich was there to push his book, products, podcast, or opinions. He came to Charleston in hopes of inspiring us with his story and educating us on the role plant-based foods should have in our pursuit of healthy living. At the end of the day he simply and humbly advocated pursuing better health for yourself by choosing a diet that works best for you whether it be plant based or otherwise. 

And in my case where I testified, the pedophile was found guilty. Justice has been served, thank you and good day.