Rich Roll, Vegan Ultra-Athlete, Recovered from Alcoholism and the Standard American Diet

Categories: Beet Reporter
One day, Rich Roll, a 41-year-old father of four, was out for what he planned would be a five or six mile run. Maybe it was the plant-based vegan diet he had recently adopted, or some primal, ancestral energy stream he had suddenly tapped into, but on that particular day, Roll didn't want to stop at six miles. He didn't want to stop at 10, or 17. After a whopping 23 miles, a distance he had never before come close to running, a stunned Roll finally decided to head home and strip off his sweat-soaked shorts and socks. This was a stark contrast from his state of being six months earlier, when he experienced chest pains upon walking up a single flight of stairs. After his impromptu near-marathon run, he knew his new lifestyle choices were unlocking some powerful strength and health. But he still could not have anticipated that within a matter of a year, he would be tackling the Epic5 endurance race, one of the most grueling voluntary physical challenges on the planet, which entails completing five back-to-back Ironman competitions within five days on five different Hawaiian islands.

Roll's miraculous health transformation was not the first metamorphosis he had undergone. About ten years before his health scare on the staircase, Roll had entered into recovery from alcohol and drug addiction and ceased the decades-spanning abuses he had inflicted on his body and mind. He began a successful law practice and met his health-minded, vegetarian, yoga-instructor wife, now the mother of his four children.

before and after.jpg
Rich Roll before and after adopting a plant-based diet and becoming an "epic" endurance athlete.
Roll was filled with gratitude for the gifts of his sobriety, but healthy eating and exercise habits were far from the forefront of his mind, even though he had been a star swimmer during the first years of his undergraduate studies at Stanford (before his drinking and drugging got in the way).

"When I was a swimmer, I was training four hours a day and I could eat anything I wanted. Calories were king. And so I formed those habits, and I stuck with those habits for a very very long time," Roll said. "And there were moments when denial took over and I looked at myself in the mirror and convinced myself I still looked like an Olympic swimmer, even though that was obviously far from the case. And of course, that stuff catches up to you."

While Roll stuffed his face with greasy burgers and fries, his yogi wife Julie Piatt maintained a healthy diet. "Looking in our fridge, it was always very obvious what food was mine and what was my wife's," Roll said. But despite the prevalence of heart disease that ran through Roll's bloodline (his grandfather, a champion swimmer, non-smoker and exercise enthusiast, died of a heart attack in his early fifties), Roll's wife knew better than to try to convert her husband to her way of eating. "She took a very Al-Anon approach to my lifestyle choices," Roll said, by which he means that she lived and let live until he asked for help.

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Many of the most successful athletes worldwide are now vegan. While they may differ in that they have decided to go vegan to avoid animal cruelty, for their health, to reduce environmental impact, or other reasons, they have one large similarity. They have proved that excellence and veganism often go together. Myths still persist that state that it is not possible to be vegan and be successful in sport. These myths do not have a foundation in science, and athletes build muscle, endurance and ability on plant sources and many go on to achieve great things. The performance of these athletes is proof that veganism can and does enable excellence

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