My name is Christine Vardaros, and I am a professional cyclocross racer. Cyclocross is the fast growing cycling discipline right now. You ride what looks like a road bike, but it actually has like knobby mountain bike wheels on it, and you ride it off-road. And it’s just the hardest thing in the world. From the first moment to the last moment you cross the finish line, it’s just absolutely agony. And that’s what I do.

Sporty viewers, in today’s Vegetarian Elite we will meet professional US cyclist Christine Vardaros, who is also a freelance journalist, advocate for animals and the environment, and a dedicated vegan.

A vegetarian for 21 years and vegan for 11, Ms. Vardaros is a veteran in health-conscious living. She began her cycling career in 1995 in New York City, where she quickly achieved professional status as a mountain bike rider in 1998. One year later she switched her focus to cyclocross, a grueling form of cycling that involves rugged terrain, obstacles, and cyclists carrying their bicycles up steep slopes.

Sometimes you’re racing five, six days a week and it gets really tough mentally. Just to stand at the start line, get yourself ready to go again, and especially when the races don’t go well as you planned; yeah, you really take a mental blow. And that’s where you kind of have to put a foot down and say, “Okay, I can do this,” and you start pulling energy from places you never even thought you could, just to make it on the start line again and get the morale high enough.

And for the physical part, I mean, cyclocross is the hardest cycling discipline, and it just demands so much of your body. You have to be good at running and you have to be good at biking. And every few seconds in the race, you’re sprinting out of a turn. So if you’re not careful, you can really wear yourself down into the ground.

Is there sometimes a way that you can get your energy up?

Well, I do it spiritually. I do feel that there’s a higher energy out there. I also believe that everything, everything in this planet and the universe is attached by energy. And to be able to pull from that energy, it’s like the ocean. If the ocean is energy, for instance, there’s always enough energy for me. So if I pull from that, there’s still enough for everything else in the universe to have energy as well. So I do things like that mentally. Mental visualization.

Christine is currently competing in the 2011 summer season in Belgium, where cyclocross has gained increased popularity over the years. Throughout her career she has enjoyed numerous achievements and successes, including running her own professional mountain biking and pro cyclocross teams. But her gratifying moments have come when representing her country on the world stage.

I’m proud to have been named to the US national team, to race a bunch of World Cups and even World Championships a few times. There is something special about not only competing against the best in the world, but representing your country. And I’ve also won quite a few races that I didn’t think that I could have won.

One time was after I broke my ankle. And yeah, three weeks later like magic, it was completely healed. And I just went in the race thinking, “Ah, what the heck, I’ll just do it for fun.” And I won. I couldn’t believe it.

Christine Vardaros has always been a heroic advocate of a drug-free lifestyle, especially when it comes to sports. Her strength and stamina are shining examples of living a pure life free from the many dangers and downfalls of drugs.

I’ve never, never taken drugs. In fact, I’m part of Bike Pure, it’s an international organization supporting riding your bike without drugs. It’s based in Ireland. And the reason why I support groups like that is because riding your bike, even without drugs, just the sport alone, tears up your body up so much. But at least I could say that my insides will be good, that my health will be good.

At least I won’t have that internal damage. And I believe if you do it drug-free and if you never get in the habit when you’re younger, that you’ll be surprised how far you can go on just your own energy. And then also your wins, your accomplishments, you’ll feel so much better about it. And to live clean in your mind is also really important for an athlete.

Christine’s daily routine certainly involves clean vegan fuel to sustain her intense training.

I have my big bowl of oats or Muesli or something and with an apple and a banana and sometimes flaxseed when I can remember. And then check my emails, get on the bike, go maybe for one-hour ride, three-hour ride. On the off season I go to the fitness center about three times a week. If it’s a hard training then I’ll lie on the floor with my legs against the wall, like completely upright for about 20 minute to let the legs drain. Oh, and before that take my recovery shake.

To keep up the mental and physical strength required from such a demanding sport, Christine has a special recipe for success. She follows a health-conscious vegan diet.

Actually before I made the decision to be a vegetarian, I actually already gave up pork. I gave up pork about 26 years ago. And I did that because my sister had just died and she was only three years old. And after that like maybe two weeks later, we had to dissect a pig in school. We all had our own little pig and it just broke my heart. It was like a dead baby. I didn’t see that it was a human or an animal, it was a dead baby. And from that day, I never ate pigs again, absolutely never, nothing with pigs in it.

And then 21 years ago on a whim, my girlfriend and I were sitting at dinner at a restaurant, and she turns to me and she said, “Well, let’s be vegetarian. We could feed the world four times over, save the planet, and what do you say?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s great, let’s do it!” Five years later I got into cycling and I was pretty darn thankful for being a vegetarian because I noticed that I was able to recover faster. I had no problems losing weight, yeah and it was just a dream.

Christine found that her new diet gave her an edge over her competitors, and she then decided to take her diet to the next level.

I thought, “Ah okay, if being a vegetarian gives me such an advantage, gives me a few health benefits, maybe if I went vegan, who knows? If I cut out more things from animals…” And I did all my research, hundreds of hours of research, and finally I decided, “I’m going to be a vegan.” And soon enough, all my symptoms went away, I was able to breathe better. I just felt fresh, I felt recovered. Everything was just it was magical.

I was able to do hard races and then the next day feel recovered again, which is a real dream because that also means I can do a hard trainings and the next day I can do a hard training, but my meat-eating co-workers, they can’t. It’s harder for them. And another benefit of a vegan diet is I’m almost never sick. That means more days training, more days racing; I can be a better athlete. I can get more done in a day. I also have just as much energy as I had when I was in my teens. That’s 20 years ago. It’s like how can that be? And yeah it can on the diet.

The results of the vegan diet were speaking for themselves, and were soon being noticed by others, including her doctor.

I broke my ankle, well, broke my leg actually. And the doctor told me, “Six weeks. Yours is a bad crack, six weeks.” Three weeks later it was completely healed, 100% healed. He pulled my coach aside who was at the appointment and he said, “What did she do?” And he says, “Yeah well she’s on a vegan diet and she kept her protein count low and that’s the secret.” And he was just absolutely shocked.

My coach is actually vegan too and he usually has about 50 or 70 clients or something, and he actually talks most of them into going vegan, so there quite a few vegan cyclists out there. Quite a few of my cycling friends have actually turned vegan or cut their meat because of what they’ve seen the diet have on me, the effect it’s had on me.

A true vegan hero, Christine is a tireless campaigner for promoting awareness in health and the protection of animals. She is a spokesperson for In Defense of Animals, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Organic Athlete – a group of athletes who live an organic vegan lifestyle. Christine is also a freelance journalist, contributing to various publications and magazines including Cyclocross Magazine and

Actually when I became vegan was where I really put my fist on the table and said, “I’m going to be a writer!” And I’m going to be a writer so that way, I can share the real truth with people, the truth about protein, the truth about your body, the truth about exercise, the truth about anything.

Like for instance, one trick that I shared with the readers is beet juice. That’s something that people are just now starting to pick up in the athletic world. If you drink 500 milliliters of beet juice every day, it actually helps your endurance by, some say 16%, some say 20. Organic beet juice, actually.

A common misconception that people are always approaching me about is the old question, “How do you get your protein?” I find that just so, so pitiful that this misconception is out there that, that you need so much protein. In fact, in my diet I get 6 to 10% protein at most. And in fact when I’m going through a hard training period or having an injury, I actually try to keep it on the lower end for health reasons. So in that way I can I can recover faster, so I can heal faster.

If people knew the truth that when you drink milk, it actually gives you osteoporosis, and as an athlete, it dehydrates you. It puts a real strain on your body to try to process that. I just think it’s so unfortunate that even athletes still think to this day that they need to drink their glass of milk to be healthy, when it’s doing everything against all the work that they’ve done to make themselves stronger.

One person can make a difference. So I’m happy to be a part of this growing generation of people who want to take care of their bodies, want to take care of the planet, and want to take care of the animals and be kind. A lot of the people in the vegan world are all making an effort. Eventually we’ll all make the world a better place. You know, we’ll save the planet, like I thought 21 years ago. And we’ll also save lives, save people so that they can live a healthier life, they can live a longer life, and live life to its fullest.

Thank you, Christine Vardaros, for being a true hero and notable example of the outstanding physical benefits of the vegan diet. We wish you continued success in your cycling and all your future endeavors.

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Health-conscious viewers, it was a pleasure to have your company today on Vegetarian Elite. Please keep your dials tuned to Supreme Master Television for Between Master and Disciples. May peace and good health be graced upon you and all your loved ones.