Last week, Plant Strong hosted the second speaker in their lecture series. Slim, long-haired, and soft-spoken, Rich Roll might seem like the stereotypical vegan at first glance.
However, looking at the diverse audience filling the room at this lecture, he clearly represents a much more intricate message of inspiration. Although Roll was a successful collegiate swimmer at Stanford University, his athletic achievements and active lifestyle fell wayside as he pursued a career as an entertainment lawyer in California.
Soon, under the pressure of corporate culture and an addictive personality, Roll succumbed to alcoholism. He described how he felt trapped by a double life of addiction, commuting to his office in LA with shot glasses between his knees and throwing away empty bottles.
Roll eventually checked into rehab and bravely achieved sobriety as well as the stereotypical American dream. However, despite having a family and steady income, Roll’s physical and emotional life continued to deteriorate into sedentary, fast food-fueled depression.
Roll spoke of a telling moment when one night he experienced staggering heart pain on his staircase. This event led Roll to make a revolutionary change in his life, not unlike recovering from alcoholism.
His spiritual, yoga-practicing wife had given up pushing her husband towards a healthier lifestyle after some years, but after witnessing her successfully cure a cyst on her own neck with a plant-based diet and herbal supplements, Roll was encouraged to finally seek her advice on his own terms.
After a week-long juice cleanse, Roll was ready to transfer his addiction onto juice, feeling more energetic and cleaner than ever before. Soon, he adopted a diverse and diet of plant-based whole foods and began to run a few times a week.
A meditative compulsion extended one particular run into the better part of a marathon, prompting Roll to rediscover his inner athlete. Before he knew it, his wife was helping him fuel his body with plants as he trained to complete in the Ultraman, a triathlon that circumnavigates the Big Island of Hawai’i in three days.
Roll has now written a book about his experience, titled “Finding Ultra,” created a podcast that rambles in fascinating directions for hours at a time, and has a company named “Jai Seed,” which hosts a line of instructional videos and nutritional supplements.
Roll’s message is special because rather than telling people how to live or preaching moderation and self-denial, he lives as a thriving example of the energy that can be fed by plants and nature.
The plant-based lifestyle that Roll promotes is not about weight loss, counting carbs, or fat and protein, but is instead about forming a relationship between your own body, mind, and the earth that is sustainable, pure, and healing.
In a world where heart disease prevails and overconsumption devastates natural resources, Roll wants people to know that the solution for human health is also the solution for environmental sustainability and animal cruelty.
On the most extreme scale, if every athlete began to increase endurance and recovery rates by gleaning protein, fiber, and phytonutrients from plants rather than animals, a cornfield used to feed cattle could be converted into a wild habitat or vegetable farm built through permaculture on a basis of biodiversity. Heart disease and other illnesses would plummet in the United States, and cows would no longer be fed hormones or be forcibly impregnated to produce a constant flow of milk.
Perhaps a local community garden could feed young athletes in an urban food dessert neighborhood nearby, fueling a future generation of healthy American environmental stewards to have an empowered relationship to their own nutrition, economy, and earth.
Roll also has a spiritual message, but not the religious kind of spiritual or even the ‘hippie in the woods with peyote’ kind of spiritual. The kind of spiritual experience that Roll speaks of is more about an alignment of self-love and love of your environment.
The clean fuel of nature powers the meditative purity that comes with harmony of mind, body, and trail on a long. It’s a spiritual experience when an athlete doesn’t have to track nutrient ratios because they trust the earth to feed them a balanced array of medicine.
Roll says his transformation from depressed alcoholic to an ultra triathlete was all about forging a relationship with himself; discovering ultrarunning was an unintended result of the vulnerable decision to get outside and eat plant-based food.
After hearing Roll’s lecture, I looked around at the audience and hoped that they were as inspired as I was. There were middle-aged runners in spandex, vegans with headbands and dreadlocks, and student athletes who perhaps were not yet aboard the plant-based train.
The message that I hope each person took away from Roll’s talk was how powerful it can be to choose yourself as a tool in the solution for our planet and personal well-being, fit with an engine and premium fuel.
At the end of the week, I looked back on Roll’s lecture for inspiration as I faced my 20th birthday. I began one of his two-hour podcasts on my phone, laced up, and ran. You have the ability to take part in a paradigm shift in society by embracing yourself and your environment, and Rich Roll is one of many figures who live as proof of that.