'You Have To Embrace Life's Journey': Vegan Legend Rich Roll Talks To PBN

Rich Roll in conversation with Plant Based News

“Here’s my top life hack for you: stop trying to hack your life.

“Life is not about hacking. Life is not about removing the obstacles to create a super highway towards your goal. You have to embrace the journey.

“When you face those obstacles, you’re forced to confront yourself, and that reveals character. It’s how you develop as a human being.

“So rather than trying to avoid them, embrace them.”

Alcoholics and drug addicts often refer to hitting rock bottom. Ultra endurance athlete and vegan influencer Rich Roll says he has hit it twice.

After entering rehab in his early 30s for drink and abuse, he got clean. Almost 10 years later he found himself facing breaking point once more: overweight with workaholic tendencies, he was in the grip of an existential crisis.

It was asking himself what he really wanted that led him to his current path.

The 51 year old author, athlete and podcaster has inspired thousands worldwide with his incredible sporting accomplishments as well as his positive style of vegan advocacy. 

Within a few years, he transformed himself from a self-confessed 'couch potato' to an elite athlete, performing at the highest level, and described as Men's Fitness magazine as one of the 25 fittest men in the world in 2009.

The Rich Roll Podcast is a constant in iTune’s Top 10 chart and he also spreads the word through his blog, social media, YouTube and books.

Sport first brought him to the public’s attention. The former entertainment lawyer tells Plant Based News: “I’ve done some crazy stuff in the ultra endurance world, competed in the Ultra Man World Championships in 2008 and 2009. That was a double Ironman distance, three-day triathlon - a 320 mile circumnavigation of the Isle of Wye.

“Over the course of the three days, you swim 6.2 miles and then you ride 90 miles on your bike. The second day you ride 171 miles and the third day you run a double marathon (52 miles).

“I did fairly well in that race, particularly in 2009. Then in 2010 I did five Ironmans in under a week and that put me on the map in terms of my endurance credentials.

“There was a lot of interest because I did it all plant-based and people were like ‘how do you perform as an athlete vegan’, and that gave me a podium to start to talk about these issues.”
Rich Roll is widely admired for his sporting achievements (Photo: richroll.com)

And Roll fully embraces the potential of new media to talk about these issues.

“All of these channels are just different distribution platforms for me to put out one version or another of a positive message,” he tells Plant Based News.

“That could be an interview with a positive, inspiring person on my podcast or an article that’s going to educate you and give you a broader perspective on a global issue, or whether it’s just an Instagram post to inspire you to get out of bed and look after yourself physically.

“They are all variations on a theme, which is that I’m trying to incite positive behavioural change in people.”

This positivity doesn’t stop the star from reflecting on the difficulties facing the global vegan movement. He admits that the vegan community can ‘get in its own way and shoot itself in the foot’ adding that it is composed of myriad voices that run a whole spectrum when it comes to advocacy styles.

“But I also would say that we need all voices, we need the really hard-core person who really toes the line and doesn’t give an inch,” he says. “Because without that person, the person on the other end of the scale, the one who placates and negotiates, doesn’t have a boundary to push up against.

“You can’t have one without the other so I celebrate the different voices. Everyone has their role to play. I have my role to play.

“It’s not for me to say someone else should advocate like me or unlike me. I think you should have your own personal voice and speak in a way that is authentic to who you are.”

There are many external pressures too, so what does he sees as the biggest blind spot? As vegan advocates, what could we be doing better?

“That’s a good question,” he says. “If you can answer that question, you really open up a world of opportunity. I think that most people are inherently compassionate and they want to align their actions with their values.

“People don’t like to have to harm animals in order to survive. They don’t like the idea that animals are suffering. In many cases, animals are being tortured in order to create our food, but we turn a blind eye to it because it’s uncomfortable. I think people rationalise it by saying ‘I don’t like that exists but that’s just the way it has to be for me to live, and I have to make peace with it’.

“But if you can show that not only can you live, but you can thrive and you can actualise your higher self without all these foods you’ve been told you need your entire life to be healthy, you can be a positive example of that lifestyle.

“People will come up to you – how did you do that? You look great, how do I do what you’re doing? That’s the kind of vibration I choose to carry, it’s about education and inspiring your fellow man.”

Rich Roll running in New York (Photo: Rich Roll Facebook)

This ethos is inspiring the book he is currently writing. “I’m in the really early stages of it, so I can’t say too much at this point but I want to create a mind-body-spirit wellness approach to unlocking your best self,” he says.

He plans to leverage his own experience, as well as that of his podcast guests, in order to create a ‘template for people to follow in my footsteps and inhabit their version’ of his journey.

In the meantime, he is positive about the changes we’ve seen recently, and what they mean for the growth of veganism.

“There’s been a confluence of things all happening in a compressed amount of time,” Roll says. 

“When Cowspiracy came out it tapped into the environmentally conscious collective consciousness around how to save the planet, and the idea that animal agriculture is this culprit we hadn’t been talking about.

“Now [health documentary] What the Health is out, soon James Cameron’s film The Game Changers that focuses on plant-based athletes will be available.”

This proliferation of content celebrating the lifestyle is a key driver of change. But he feels market forces also have a roll to play.

“We live in a capitalist society, so the way we’re going to win is by creating plant-based foods that are delicious, that are affordable and that are convenient. So when you see foods like the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger become more popular, this is just the very beginning of what the world is going to look like in 10 years.

“That’s an incredibly exciting trend to watch.”

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