VLV Articles

Glynn Owens was born in 1950, growing up in the post-war slums of Oldham in the UK. A fairly weak child, he avoided most sporting activities until his teen years, but began to achieve some success when he took up judo at the age of 16, rising to black belt status within three years - the start of a judo career in which he held various championship titles at county, regional and national levels. He was British representative in the third and fourth World University Judo Championship, fought in Japan at the age of 40 and finally retired (barring any future comebacks) after winning a silver medal in the 1997 New Zealand national championships. In between his various periods as a judo player, he also found time to compete (with little success) in around 30 other sports including decathlon, modern pentathlon, distance running, swimming, and aviation – besides spending several years training as a contemporary dancer. Since turning 60 his activities have been dominated by circus aerials, particularly flying trapeze and aerial silks. A few months ago he embarked upon his first classes in pole dance.
Outside his own sporting activities, Glynn has also found time to work with other athletes, and has made use of his psychological expertise (he is a trained clinical psychologist, and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland) in helping sportspeople cope with the demands of their chosen activity. He has worked with professional sports teams and individuals, and with a number of Olympic athletes. He lives in Glendowie with his partner, also a distance runner (she has represented both Wales and New Zealand) and a cat who simply regards him as another member of staff.
Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
Easy one this - I'm generally soppy about animals, and when a former girlfriend explained to me what was involved in the dairy industry it made sense to go vegan completely.

How long have you been vegan?
Since 1976.

What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Having a clear conscience. Perhaps also notable is when I turned vegan I was 58Kg. Yesterday I was 58Kg - certainly an easy way to maintain a healthy weight.

What does veganism mean to you?
Perhaps surprisingly, these days, it’s no big deal - it's so easy, with so many alternatives to meat, milk etc.  Even the supermarket shelves are crammed with soya milk - though must admit that lately I've started making my own.
What sort of training do you do?
My sports have varied over the years - these days I'm mostly concentrating on rock climbing and various circus activities (especially flying trapeze), though as part of keeping in shape for that I also do some running, weights, stretches etc.

How often do you (need to) train?
When I was a serious competitor I'd train once or twice a day, e.g. run in the morning and perhaps a weights and gym session later in the day. But I'm not competing seriously now, and have reverted to doing things for fun! Which means I can take my training at a rather more leisurely pace.

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
My circus skills certainly aren't good enough to enable me to offer guidance to anyone else - but climbing is always a cooperative activity, so yes, basically those of us in our group all help and encourage each other.

What sports do you play?
These days mostly rock climbing and circus stuff. In the past I've competed in a whole heap of sports, most of which I was very bad at, a few at which I was okay and one or two I did quite well. My main success in sport was as a judo player - I was a national student champion and a Great Britain international competitor when I'd been vegan for at least three years, I made various comebacks at different times - I was North Wales champion at 39, toured Japan for a series of matches when 40, and had my last appearance in the New Zealand national championships (I took second place) when 46. At that point I really probably had to admit that it's more a sport for young people. I was a sort of ordinary club-level distance runner for a while, with a marathon time somewhat under 2 hours 50 minutes and a 10-mile time (sorry about the archaic units) of 57 minutes. Most sports, though I was pretty bad at, and some I enjoyed even though I was totally unsuited. As a decathlete, for example, a 1.65m 58Kg competitor isn't really going to have much impact on the 1.9m 95Kg bundles of muscle who usually do it - though at least I could beat some of them in the final event, the 1500 metres. I was also a modern pentathlete for a while in the UK, and a triathlete, but I'm a pretty terrible swimmer - I've done the Rangitoto to St Heliers swim 6 or 7 times, but always very slowly. These days I'm mostly having fun climbing and swinging through the air.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
Hmmm, not sure I can say - most people I know are aware I'm vegan, and they don't seem to have any distorted view of me. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that it's difficult to be vegan!

What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Well, it does seem easy to maintain a constant body weight.

What is your biggest challenge?
Probably ensuring that I keep an adequate Iron and B12 intake.

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
I work at the University of Auckland and seem to meet more and more vegans there every year.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Oh yes, I think quite a few would probably like to give it a try - but of course for some it's quite a big step.

What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
At least these days, people know what it means.  Usually it's just a question about protein, iron or something similar.

Who or what motivates you?
To be vegan? I can't imagine not being after all this time. To train? I love the things I do.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:

Breakfast - Muesli and cereals usually with fruit (dried and/or fresh) added, and (now home-made) soya milk.
Lunch - Sandwiches of some kind - Auckland's vegan shop has a wealth of possible fillings, and my home-made wholemeal walnut bread is very tasty - a testament to the automatic bread maker, not to any skill of mine.
Dinner - Usually something involving tofu - very often with avocado - a splendid combination.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - Not sure I have many - occasionally a treat of vegan chocolate or the like, if I've visited the shop in town. Otherwise things like fruit - grapes, oranges etc.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Definitely tofu - fresh, fried, marinated, firm, silky - I love them all.
Calcium - Probably the almonds I put into my soya milk recipe
Iron - Hard to say, have always ensured I keep some iron supplements in the diet anyway.
What foods give you the most energy?
By definition those with the most calories!

Do you take any supplements?
Yes, iron, folic acid, B12, calcium - and multivitamins

What is your top tip for:

Gaining muscle - Heavy weights of which you can only do a few (3-4) repetitions
Losing weight - Not really an expert, but basically you can't beat distance running for cutting down fat.
Maintaining weight - Match your intake to your activity - if you've slowed down the training, keep an eye on the calories.
Improving metabolism - Lots of activity - don't miss an opportunity - walk instead of riding, take the stairs instead of the lift and so on.
Toning up - keep a 'benchmark' of things you think you should do. For example, if I could no longer bench press my own body weight, I'd start working on the weights until I could do so again; if I couldn't run 5Km in less than 25mins I'd do more running - so set your own goals, and ensure you keep within your own limits.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
By being me. I enjoy life - more so than most people I know. It's an example, I don't nag people to follow it but it's there if they think they'd like to try it - and if they do I'm more than happy to help.

How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
With being vegan? Join the Vegan Society, talk to vegans, go to the vegan shop, do a bit of reading and so on. With climbing? Come along to the climbing gym (mine is Extreme Edge in Panmure, Auckland) and join in. With circus? Same sort of thing - come to Auckland's Dust Palace and have fun with the rest of us. Basically, just decide what you'd like to try and give it a go!


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Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.

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