Interview with Seba Johnson: Vegan Olympic Ski Racer
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 29 August 2013
Seba Johnson was born in the United States Virgin Islands. Her mother is a native of New Hampshire, and her father is a native of Burundi, Africa. Her half sister was born with cerebral palsy and is of Mexican descent. At the time, their single parent family were the only interracial family in St. Croix public housing. As the years progressed, her mother's art work and mercy missions allowed Seba and her family the opportunity to travel around the globe. They lived in many different countries with no particular home of their own, exposing Seba to a variety of cultures at a very early age. At the age of 5, Seba was standing on a ski slope in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and instantly became in awe of the graceful skiers gliding down the slopes, and 9 years later, she was at the start gate of the Winter Olympic Games, as the Youngest Alpine Ski Racer in Olympic History at age 14.
Seba is now a member of the Screen Actors Guild pursuing a career in acting and Public Speaking as she writes her book for which she is looking for publishing opportunities. As an ethical Vegan since birth her commitment to speaking up for animals and to never wear, eat, nor use animal products paved the way for the compassion she has for all living beings.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I was raised Vegan since birth. My Mother became Vegan in her early 20's and promised herself to raise her kids Vegan if she were to ever have children. I remember watching undercover investigation videos and reading the pamphlets that were mailed to the house when we were kids - I felt deeply for the animals at an early age. I remember how the other parents of my childhood friends would either get upset or interested when their kids would come home after sleepovers at my house - I felt it was my duty to show my friends what was happening to animals.
How long have you been vegan?
I was born a Vegan and have been for my entire life - 4 decades.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
The benefit for me is the knowledge that I am saving so many lives and not taking one to sustain my own. I am living proof that it can be done. Children can successfully be fed plant-based foods and grow into healthy strong Vegan adults! And maybe it's my father’s Tutsi Burundi, African genes but I like to attribute the fact that I look younger than my actual age because of my organic Vegan lifestyle.
What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism is the ultimate form of compassion. As I've quoted in preparation for the AR2013 Conference (Seba received the first ever Outstanding Vegan Athlete Award) "I believe that we will express sincere respect towards each person's gender, ethnicity, ability or disability, and will to survive only when we turn to a vegan lifestyle - the human evolution of compassion that starts in the heart, not the stomach." I never considered my being Vegan was for health reasons - it was always for the love and respect I had for animals. And because of that love and respect I have for non-human animals my compassion flows over to all living beings, of all types.
What sort of training (did) you do?
During my Olympic training, I was blessed with a complimentary membership to a gym overlooking Lake Tahoe, while I was in High School. It was either the gorgeous view or my love for skiing that encouraged me to weight train every day after school. On weekends, I would ski eight hours a day and back to the gym I would go. During the week, I also worked out with my high school ski team lifting weights and stretching, then taking the ski lift chair to the mountaintop where I would train Slalom and Giant Slalom. The main muscle groups I worked were: legs, stomach, back, and arms – all of which were important for staying strong on courses with speeds up to 90 miles an hour.
In between ski seasons, I would do dry-land training and ski training on glaciers during summer ski camps in Mount Hood, Oregon, Portillo Chile or Hintertux, Austria with the best international ski coaches.
How often do you (need to) train?
I trained all year round. Four years after I became the Youngest Alpine Ski Racer in Olympic History in 1988, I qualified for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France, competing in the Giant Slalom and Slalom ski events. As an animal rights advocate I protested the following Winter Olympic Games in 1994 held in Lillehammer, Norway and decided not to participate due to the fact that Norway lifted their moratorium and resumed their practice of commercial hunting for minke whale.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Before I moved to LA almost 5 years ago I taught inner city youth from Boston how to ski. For most of the kids, it was their first time out of the city. Once I find a Vegan venue and money to afford it I would love to get my Yoga Teacher Certification so I can continue to help people.
What sports do you play?
Since I retired from ski racing, I used to ski every year just for fun, until 2008 when I broke my pelvis in 3 places and had to learn how to walk again. I skied for the first time since in 2012, to commemorate the accident that almost took my life four years prior.
These days I enjoy Yoga at least 3 times a week (though I shoot for more), Zumba and Spinning classes, or an hour of cardio with 400 crunches and weights. I also love swimming and hiking.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
The misconception is that we are deficient in necessary nutrients. I explain that every nutrient my body has ever needed can be found in a plant source.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
As an athlete: I honestly don't think I reached my highest potential, I was 10 years younger than the winners of the ski races I was competing in. So perhaps my strength as a vegan athlete was the fact that I made history twice; as the Youngest ever and the First Black Female in Olympic alpine ski racing History. I retired before my prime due to the racism I found difficult to endure.
As a Vegan: We do not become clogged with dairy products or bogged down by heavy meat and dead foods. We strive to have healthy bodies and minds, and not make ourselves walking graveyards for dead animals and their products.
What is your biggest challenge?
As an athlete, my biggest challenge was finding sponsors who would support my ethical Vegan needs. Thankfully, I was able to have a great relationship with my clothing sponsor who graciously accommodated my every need of having ski suits and apparel that did not contain wool, leather, fur, silk, nor down.
I was once disqualified from a World Cup ski race because I refused to wear a ski suit (of another clothing company) that had a patch of leather sewn into it - they would not understand that for moral and ethical reasons I just couldn't wear it.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
In the sport of ski racing it wasn't necessarily the non-vegans that weren't supportive, it was the people who opposed seeing a Black person in what they called "a White man’s sport." At the tender age of 14, my experience was a startling eye opening to the various forms of jealousy and the reality of prejudice that exists in the world. But what I chose to embrace for the years that I competed as a two time Olympian was the support and words of encouragement I received from various celebrities and devoted fans here in the States and overseas. Children would write to me from grade schools asking what my favorite color was and it was these experiences that led me to take tours of elementary and high schools between the ski seasons. I gave inspirational talks, based on my experiences, for those who wanted to attain their own special dream that seemed impossible.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My Mother, yes naturally, since it was her idea to raise me Vegan. But it was certainly hard going to family Holiday dinner parties at my Grandmother’s house with all of my uncles, aunts, and cousins - most of whom would chastise my Mother for raising her kids Vegan, in front of my sister and I. Even though my Mother would bring Vegan dishes to share, eventually we were no longer invited. We have never been quiet about our stance on preventing the suffering of animals and even though we didn't realize it then, we were planting the seeds of change in their minds.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
The first question is always, "How long have you been Vegan?" and I respond, "Since birth." Then there is always a confused look of shock and disbelief!
Who or what motivates you?
I am encouraged by compassionate souls and the love I see in the eyes of those I've committed my life to stand up for.
Food & Supplements
What (did) you eat:
At the Olympic Village the chefs were very understanding and did their best to provide a non-dairy, strict vegetarian diet for me. I insisted on berries, which became abundantly available when other Olympians saw me flourishing off them. Organic soy products gave me energy and I avoided anything with honey. Pure maple syrup and raw organic almond slivers on oatmeal found my Olympic morning meals satisfying and energetic.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Almonds, Quinoa, Tempeh
Calcium- Kale (I love Kale)
Iron - Lentils, Spinach
What foods give you the most energy?
Do you take any supplements?
When I feel my body craves it I buy vegan formula B12 and Vegan Calcium tablets derived from Sea Kelp.
What is your top tip for:
Losing weight - Trying to figure out this one ever since my accident 5 years ago…
Maintaining weight - If there is a Vegan supplement or protein shake company that would like to sponsor me in my weight loss endeavor please let me know!
Improving metabolism - Green tea has helped me in the past.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
Via social networking and in every opportunity where someone is willing to listen. I visit schools and youth camps to speak about Veganism and respecting animals. Via any national or international radio, television, magazine, or newspaper interview I would be sure to make mention of my ethical Vegan upbringing and the myriad of benefits Living Vegan has - by simply eating compassionately and not contributing to the suffering of animals.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
There's so much a person can do to help animals. Volunteer at any of the animal rights organizations, your local animal shelters, and speak up if you see an animal being harmed. Or simply GO VEGAN today - don't wait. Your life and countless others will be better off for it.
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