An Ironman medal around your neck is something to be proud of. The grueling triathlon involves a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. Back to back to back. It’s no surprise that an increasing number of these bold endurance athletes who attempt such races turn to a vegan diet. When inflammation is the enemy, plants help to fuel and recover during grueling, multi-hour training sessions. But vegan Ironman Roger Sewell is different. He’s not just an Ironman finisher—he’s the first ever bilateral above-the-knee blade runner to complete the formidable Ironman World Championships. How does a person swim, bike, and run these distances without legs from the knee down? Sewell chatted with us to share his epic story.
VegNews (VN): When and why did you adopt a plant-based diet? How did the change affect your performance?
Roderick Sewell (RS): It was in 2018 when I started transitioning to a more plant-based diet. I had been eating a lot of meat—especially bacon—and as I started really listening to my body, I knew I needed to make a change to reap the benefits that a different diet would give me. I had a very short amount of time to prepare for Ironman and I knew that if I wanted to do well, I had to change my diet. My training had gotten more intense and I wanted to lower my chances of injury while also enhancing my recovery. I attribute this change in diet to my increased endurance and the overall positive results I was seeing during training and competition.
VN: What do you eat or drink to help your body recover?
RS: I am constantly eating greens no later than 30 minutes after my workouts. This includes a lot of veggies before bed as well—mainly spinach. I have to say that I consistently turn to Vega’s products since they’ve been a huge help with my recovery. The Vega Sport Nighttime Rest and Repair [powder] is by far my favorite. When I’m working out, my go-to snack is the Vega protein bars.
VN: Tell us about your involvement with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
RS: Getting involved with CAF and adaptive sports was life changing. I went from a kid who was never active to suddenly being given the opportunity to do every sport I could—from handcycling, to wheelchair basketball, to swimming. The older I have gotten, the more I’ve realized that there are people, young and old, who haven’t had the same experiences that I was given through CAF which is why I wanted to be a part of this organization that helped give me these life experiences and pay that forward to others. To help someone live life and enjoy those experiences is a phenomenal and rewarding feeling.
VN: How did you find your way to compete for Team USA?
RS: I was in my last year of college when I swam a time standard, qualifying for my first national team. Once I experienced gold and bronze medal victories at the 2014 Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championship, I was hooked!
VN: Tell us about your virtual 2020 Community Challenge.
RS: I am so excited about this! CAF usually has their big triathlon fundraiser this time of year, but with COVID-19, all events were put on hold. That didn’t stop us. CAF created a virtual athletic challenge that had a common purpose to raise funds to help individuals with physical challenges get access to sports and sports equipment. It’s also an event that motivates people to prioritize their physical and mental health at a time when it’s greatly needed. During the ten-week virtual challenge, the event raised over $2.5 million!
VN: What do you love about racing and competition?
RS: Sports have absolutely changed my attitude about life. As soon as I started to compete, I saw everything as a challenge that I had to get through. Racing requires me to constantly push myself, and that constant push has brought me a long way in sports, my work, and life in general. There was a time when walking was a worry for me—when I didn’t know what I was capable of until trying. Once I started trying and taking risks, it led to me attempting every possible sport until I found my passion, strength, and motivation to pursue these sports further.
VN: The Ironman World Championships are canceled this year, but are there any events that you’re looking forward to?
RS: In addition to Kona [the Championships] being canceled, I had been training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics which were also postponed until 2021. I am still training for Tokyo, and now I have an extra year to prepare for a two-sport attempt at the Paralympics and hopefully get myself onto the podium! That said, while training is a priority, this pandemic has made me slow down and appreciate my family and friends. I’m primarily focusing on my health, my tribe, and my work.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.
Photo credit: Donald Miralle
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