David Smith, MBE, vegan paralympian
David Smith, MBE, vegan paralympian
David Smith is a successful para rower and cyclist who has won Gold medals at international level. David has overcome enormous setbacks and recovered to extremely high levels of fitness thanks to determination and high standards of nutrition.
He was born in 1978 with a club foot and underwent repeated medical interventions to break and reset the foot. Doctors considered full amputation of the foot at birth.
In 2009 he took up para rowing (formerly known as adaptive rowing), soon joined a coxed four team in the disability LTAMix4 category, and helped the team to Gold at the 2009 World Rowing Championships. In 2011 he participated in the same event at the World Championships and won Gold in 3 minutes 27.10 seconds, a win by almost five seconds.
This result also qualified them for the Paralympics in 2012. The year saw them win Gold in the London 2012 games, as well as travelling to Munich to bring home Gold in the World Cup. The following year he was awarded an MBE. A post box in Grampian Road, Aviemore, has been painted gold in honour of David’s Paralympic Gold.
Aside from his foot issues, David has had other setbacks. In 2010 he was taken into emergency surgery when a cervical tumour was discovered at cervical spine level. The surgery caused temporary paralysis. The surgery involved the removal of three vertebrae and rebuilding the spine using screws and metal cages.
In 2014 he was told that the tumour had returned, and there was the possibility that David could be paralysed below the neck.
Three months after learning to walk again following this operation David was training ten hours a day and planning to climb three faces of Mount Ventoux.
“Making it onto the GB Cycling squad and fighting through my second tumour so much faster than I did my first time round is one of my greatest achievements” Dave told us. “I believe 100% that following a plant based lifestyle got me back on my bike 6 weeks to the day after having my tumour removed from my spinal cord in my neck.”
At the time of his second operation, David had at that point been vegan for over a year.
“I had been very unwell after the 2012 games and I came across Rich Roll's book and it made total sense to me. My main motivation was health, then I started to notice all the benefits from fast recovery between training, better sleep and more energy. I started with adding more plant based foods into my week and before I knew it I was 100% plant based.”
(You can read about Rich Roll here.)
“The whole time in hospital [for the second tumour] I had 8 cold pressed juices a day and my recovery was unreal. The first surgery was not as aggressive as the second and it took me ages to recover. This time I could feel my body healing faster and the more nourishment I gave it the better I would feel then in turn recover.”
David's surgery, recovery and training have been documented on his excellent blog.
“I am 100% Plant Based and feel it has not only had a massive impact on my sporting performance, but more importantly my health and the health of the planet.”
David is a fan of juicing and blending, and feels that this high-nutrient approach has been crucial. He also eats cooked and raw food.
“I eat a lot of leafy greens like spinach and kale and lots of smoothies. I love almond milk in them and make my own in the blender. On the bike my ‘go-to’ snack is bananas and I have lots of them in my blends with other fruits and vegetables. I love cooking and really like vegan lasagne. I try to eat a high amount of raw food throughout the week. I like to make a huge salad with quinoa, arame and mix in a variety of nuts and seeds. I also add maca to my drinks and cook lots with ginger and turmeric.”
While veganism is growing among sportspeople, it is not yet common and David has encountered curiosity as opposed to negativity.
“I find lots of people are intrigued by it and they all love my juices and blends. Especially my pre training blend, which is pretty much everything I have in my fridge goes into the vitamix.”
As well as staying healthy and climbing mountains, David has more ambitions in sport. He plans to make the team for the Rio Paralympics (2016) and win a medal. He also plans to compete in Tokyo four years later.
In May 2015, months after major surgery, David had planned to cycled Mont-Ventoux in France (read more here). Mont-Ventoux is part of the Tour de France
In June 2015 he represented Great Britain in a World Cup event (read more here).
“I feel better now at 36 and after three major neck surgeries than I have ever felt in my life and I owe that to a vegan diet. It is also great to know that you’re not only giving your body the best nourishment but your also not hurting any animals and helping the planet.”