Interview with Rodolfo Palma: Vegan Swimmer & Triathlete
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 16 January 2014
Rodolfo Palma was born in Chile and was a child during the Pinochet dictatorship until he moved to upstate New York. It was as a youth in New York that he found a love for swimming, which he pursued throughout most of his life. He moved to Michigan late in High School and was elected captain of an already-winning team. One spring afternoon, after his senior year, Rodolfo went straight from eating meat to being 100% vegan.
Rodolfo played water polo briefly for the University of Michigan, but took a hiatus from sports. After college, he and Melissa (his wife-to-be) formed an anarchist soccer league, and that led to Rodolfo finding sports again. He soon joined Ann Arbor Masters and started competing again. That led to coaching A2QUA, the LGBT swim team in Ann Arbor, MI until Rodolfo and Melissa moved to Chile. There, Rodolfo swam for the Universidad de Chile swim team and missed Olympic cut by just a few seconds. Upon moving back to the USA, Rodolfo began coaching Ann Arbor Masters. He coached for nearly a decade. In 2008, Rodolfo tried his first triathlon, and he was hooked. In 2011, he tried his first purely open water swim and was also hooked. Now, Rodolfo competes regularly in swim meets, triathlons, open water races, and the occasional road running race.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I went vegan for Animal Rights reasons. This happened slightly on a whim. I was a meat-eater and had even dated a vegetarian but found it silly. A friend and I went to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant and he suggested that we read the book, "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. He said it was about veganism. I realized that inadvertently, my meal had already been vegan, so I decided to stick to veganism for the rest of the day as I read the book. I finished the book quickly, and had already been vegan for a few days without really noticing it being difficult. I just kept going, day by day as a vegan. That was in 1995.
How long have you been vegan?
I've been vegan for over 18 years, or just over half of my life.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
I am happiest living in step with my ethics. I can look at myself in the mirror - happy with my food choices daily.
What does veganism mean to you?
It means a simple step towards living ethically. I do not think that my going vegan will change the world, but it certainly allows me to feel good about who I am. Begin vegan is now a part of my identity.
What sort of training do you do?
I swim approximately 4 times a week (3000m+ per session), cycle about 3 times a week (10miles per session), and run about twice a week (5miles per session). Occasionally, I play soccer or water polo or weight lifting or other sports as cross training.
How often do you (need to) train?
When work and life allows, I train twice a day seven days a week, with one day off for recovery. Unfortunately, that happens only once or twice a year. I need to train at least once a week.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I am a masters swim coach, but my current full time work has made my part-time work of coaching more marginal in my life. Now I do personal training for former clients and swimmers.
What sports do you play?
As a competitive swimmer, I swim the 200 IM, 200 Breast, 200 Fly, 100 Fly, 400 IM, 200 Free and 100 Back. I swim those events at least twice a year, but often in 5 meets a year. I also do open water swims, specifically a yearly 5km OWS and a 1m OWS. I also do approximately 5 sprint distance triathlons a year. Last, I do at least one foot-race per year, usually a 10k run in the spring and a 5k run in the fall.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
Folks don't perceive vegans as doing sports. I make sure that people know I'm vegan with my race kit, and in my conversations.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
I find it easier to avoid the garbage diet that most athletes fall into because I'm already avoiding a lot of mass produced fitness foods.
What is your biggest challenge?
When I do find an easy vegan fitness food, like vegan sports bars, I tend to over-rely on them rather than on the vast amount of healthier whole foods out there.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My wife and kids are supportive of our collective veganism, but my parents and in-laws and others are not particularly helpful. They do not interfere with my veganism, but they rarely help or know how to help.
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 most common response is, "Where do you get your protein". I respond that if you eat enough calories, it's impossible to not get enough protein. I show them my kids, any myself, as examples.
Who or what motivates you?
I am motivated because I love swimming and the feeling of racing.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy)
I do not think of foods or what I eat in terms of macro-nutrients. I think of food in terms of what I like to eat. Due to that, I can give you answers to the questions, but I do not plan my meals in terms of "protein, calcium, and iron" or any other nutrients. I just think: will this taste awesome and have fresh foods in it?
What foods give you the most energy?
All foods give me energy equally. However, high sugar foods like vegan ice cream tend to give me energy, but sap it afterwards. I tend to avoid high sugar processed foods before races. I do eat fresh bananas and I find I like eating them before races.
Do you take any supplements?
Not regularly. Occasionally, I'll take an Emergen-C pack before I get a cold, or eat my kid's multi-vitamin when our kids have them.
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - Lift high resistance weights, and eat plenty and often, especially high calorie dense foods.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
I wear my veganism on my sleeve. Everyone at work knows I'm vegan, and most of my competitors know I'm vegan. Having healthy vegan kids also helps. Doing well and living healthily are what I do now. However, in the past, what I did most was Animal Rights activism. I still prefer that, but I cannot do it often these days.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
Support your local vegan athletes!
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