Review of the book FINDING ULTRA: a book written by triathlon athlete and vegan. A book about uprising and never-ending hope.
Millions of people around the world might have been in similar situation: just before their 40th birthday, sitting at home in front of the TV after a long day in the office (Rich Roll is successful lawyer who graduated at Stanford). Watching TV being interrupted only by casual eating of various foods set around: hamburgers from McDonald's and other typical American meals. Then they lift their over weighted bodies and shove into the bedroom after their wives. But for Rich Roll this was harder, because he had to go upstairs and in the middle of the stairs he felt sudden stitching in the chest and cold sweat ran all over him. "I felt freeze in my back and it went down through my spine as panic was taking over me. A drop of sweat felt on dark wooden floor. I fixed myself on it, as if it had been the only thing that could have saved me from collapsing. In this small, crystal ball, I saw my sad future I wouldn't be able to see the wedding of my daughter. When I finally made it to the sink, I saw my reflection in the mirror. That long time held image of young, handsome swimming champion, which I had once been, was gone. At that time my whole denying fell into pieces and I saw the naked truth. I was fat, out of breath and very unhealthy man on the edge of middle age."
This situation, suggestively written at the beginning of the book, reveals the whole, strong story of Rich Roll, who is now, some years after this depressive initiating moment, one of the best endurance athletes on the whole planet. How is it possible that from situation when you almost got a heart attack on the way upstairs you come to the point where you run marathons, ride hundreds of kilometers on bike and you are able to make couple of triathlons consequently?
"I had to act," explains Roll in his book. "You see, I am a man of the extreme. I cannot have one glass. I am either fully sober, or I get drunk until I wake up naked in a hotel room in Las Vegas not knowing how did I get there. I either get up before 5 a.m. and sneak from the bed so I can swim in the pool (as I did in my puberty), or I lay on the couch and eat one Big Mac after another. I knew that vague statement that I would eat healthier, or that I would occasionally go to the gym would not work. I needed to draw a thick line."
And while most of people would stick only to the resolution, Rich Roll shows us what happens when a person has strong will to draw this thick line in reality. Absolute and fundamental change of eating habits, which Roll had had the same as most Americans, was at the beginning of his new journey. Roll understood that without this change he would not have a chance to move forward. His wife Julie was inspiration and support for him and also he found inspiration and support thanks to his open mind to new things without sticking to old dogmas (Roll also had lived under the influence of the media and other people that we need to eat a lot of meat and dairy products to stay healthy). So after initial, few months vegetarian phase which helped him from the worst, but did not bring the wanted effect he decided to switch to a complete vegan diet. And the change is described in his book: "I will confess fully," writes Roll. "I could't adjust to the VEGAN expression for a long time, because it is connected with political opinions and with people that are different type from what I thought I was. However I decided to try it. What followed then was simply a miracle, which has changed the direction of my life forever."
Roll approached the whole change of his diet extremely responsibly and as many people who don't become vegans because of ethical reasons, but because of their health and athletic abilities, he became nutritional specialist and his argumentation in favor of plant based diet, which he cultivates throughout the book and especially in the end of it, is practically bulletproof.
Especially when it is supported by absolutely brilliant, and from the point of view of 99% conventionally eating population, unbelievable and unreachable athletic results. The book is thanks to this also a great instruction and motivation for all who have health, overweight, lack of energy and other problems, all of these have been experienced by the majority of modern society which feeds itself with meat and other animal products.
Besides the vegan and sport aspect, which we will focus on later, the book has other, more or less same priceless side: it is a fascinating study of one addiction. Rich Roll had been a heavy alcoholic until his 30s. The first part of the book shows how a successful athlete ñ Rich had been a very good swimmer on high level in his childhood, and also a student of prestigious universities could slowly fall into the addiction and what it did to his life. This part would be great for reading for today's youth who help themselves, as Roll at his time, with alcohol to their higher self-esteem and social status. Straight edge readers (life without drugs) will also enjoy it, because Roll very suggestively describes the hard times of being addicted to alcohol and how can it tear one's life into pieces. From wedding, which was cancelled by his first wife during honeymoon, through his job, lost athletic career in his youth, to his inability to face his drinking and different defensive mechanisms which he was hiding behind. This study of one addiction shows how little is enough to cross the line between occasional glass for encouragement and for getting rid of social self-consciousness (how many people have started to drink because of this reason?), to the world of deliriums and endless disappointing of people around you.
However Roll is a real fighter and understands that the worst demons are in our souls. He realizes that alcohol has become part of his personality and that it totally destroys his life and that he can end with it as well as with unhealthy lifestyle, meat and milk. The book is really strong and motivational reading for all who are interested in the topic of addiction, for people who try to get rid of addiction as well as for straight edge fans who can see what things they avoid with their lifestyle.
And concerning the sport parts, these are nonetheless readable and inspirational for all who are experienced and are interested in extreme sports. Rich describes in detail his practice preparation, races which he has been to, especially the hardest one: EPIC 5, where he finished 5 triathlons (marathon 42,5 km, 200 km on bike and 5 km swimming) on Hawaii consecutively. We can read about unbelievable effort which he experienced during this one week event, about total crises and exhaustion which he suffered during some days, but also about what a real will can do.
The annex of the book is very interesting from the vegan point of view. Roll analyses the influence of plant food on our organism and sport performance, everything tested in detail on his own skin. Roll is a fan of plant food in its most natural form; his diet is mainly raw vegan. Some of his opinions are radical: e.g. he sees the consumption of soy negatively due to its content of phytoestrogens (although many studies have shown that these worries are overrated and experiences of many athletes are such that the negatives of soy are exaggerated). Roll recommends only these soy products: tempeh, miso and partly tofu. Generally the last part of the book offers a lot of tips, and attractively and convincingly written nutritional facts which prove how much can a well set vegan diet push our physical and mental performance forward.
Rich Roll doesn't focus on ethical aspects of veganism in book itself and his arguments for it are purely rational, without emotions what can again be convincing for many people, due to the fact that Rich Roll is respected, 46 year old lawyer in great condition, who has obviously everything set in life and he is not some hippie, who has nothing better to do than moralize others: the image of vegan most people, sometimes righteously, have. As time went by Roll has started to support many activities which show ethical dimension of veganism as well, for example his campaign for PETA.
"My story is about a man, who realized that he walked on wrong path. It happens to everybody. And many of us seem not to be able to get off this path, or to find different, better. I succeeded. I have opened my heart and believed that it wouldn't lead me in the wrong direction, I have decided to continue and I have experienced changes in all aspects of my life. That change has had truly epic measures." Ends his story Roll and positively adds: "The right way is waiting for you too. All you have to do is to find it and to make the first step."
Autor of review: Jan Muller
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