It’s interesting in life when things come full circle. The triathlon and multisport community is small and is full of unique characters. Rip Esselstyn is one of those folks. While he’s not affiliated with Triathlon Training Series, he’s been around long enough for us to notice the impact he has had on swimming, triathlon and nutrition.
In 1997 I was a nooby and I snuck into the pro meeting at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon pretending to be Scott Tinley’s caddy or some such Fletch-ian story. At the pro meeting some dude kept asking hard questions, grilling the RD about start rules, current direction, his choice to ignore the recommendations of the guys who swam the course on that day and take a “straighter shot” to the swim exit and on and on. After the meeting I asked ST “who was that guy?” and Scott said “Rip Esselstyn, he’s a really good swimmer”. That was one of Rip’s last races as a professional, he retired from triathlon later that year and got hired on the fire department in Austin, Texas.
Over the last few years I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods a lot – full disclosure, I own a whopping 30 shares of Whole Foods stock and as long at CEO, Joe Mackey can keep away from using aliases on the “interwebs” those 30 shares might be worth a set of Hed Jet 6s some day soon. When I’m in Whole Foods, I see Rip Esselstyn’s book, The Engine 2 Diet. I foolishly assumed it was just another diet book; trendy or perhaps clichéd touting the low carb/high protein story. I expected it to be somewhere more authentic than the grapefruit diet, possibly with an angle like macrobiotic or maybe having a caveman bent. I’ve spent more time in line judging that book by its cover than keeping up on Jennifer Aniston’s relationships.
Last night I went to the movies here in Santa Monica to see a documentary called Forks over Knives – it promotes a plant based diet over animal products. There are too many incredible revelations in this film to recount; one of the biggest might be that animal proteins turn on cancer and plant based diets turn cancer off. Another person featured in the film (two actually) were diabetics who gave up all animal products and took on this whole food/plant based way of eating and no longer needed insulin – they were no longer diabetic, their pancreas started working again. I didn’t know that diabetes was reversible but it is and while most doctors simply throw pills and needles at this issue, and others, this movie shows that changing the way we eat will solve them as well, cheaper, better, faster.
Much of the film follows Doctor Caldwell Esselstyn, a former surgeon who did a 20 year study that shows heart disease can be prevented and reversed though a plant based diet. I didn’t really connect the Esselstyn name until, boom, there on the screen was former pro triathlete and son of Caldwell, Rip Esselstyn. Rip spoke of a firehouse bet that sent all his guys to get their cholesterol tested. A few of the firefighters had crazy high cholesterol and that same day the entire crew agreed to commit to a vegan diet for several weeks. At the end of that time they all got retested and everyone’s numbers plummeted into healthier, safer zones.
I’ve never met Rip directly but following him at this great, sporadic distance has been a pleasure. There’s a nice interview that Herbert Krabel did on Slowtwitch http://www.slowtwitch.com/News/Plant-strong_Rip_Esselstyn_791.html and if you get a chance to see Forks over knives, do it!