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Interview with Canoeist Pam Boteler


Many thanks to Jurgen Bruynooghe for editing this post. Pamela Boteler is an elite canoeist and leading lady of the American women canoe/kayak scene. In this interview she explains what it takes to become a successful elite athlete on a plant-based diet and she shares some advice on how to achieve your goals.

Did you become vegan before or after becoming an athlete?
After. I’ve been an athlete (formerly called tomboy), since I came out of the womb.

How much time do you spend training each week?
10-12 hours a week.

How does your commitment to sports affect your personal life?
My commitment to sport means I have no social life! In all seriousness, my commitment to sports has elevated my personal life and enhanced who I am as a person.  I have a mission and a focus.  When I wake up every day, that larger mission is at the forefront of almost everything I do. It is a privilege to still be an athlete and also a driver of this movement for gender equity in Olympic canoeing.  It’s the athlete part that sometimes suffers because of my other responsibilities.  I admit that it has been difficult to keep up with friendships at times.  It is not just my commitment to sports (which is a major part of my life), but life responsibilities as an adult do take over sometimes, and taking all of this together, it can be hard to keep up. Getting that 9-10 hours of sleep per night is sometimes impossible but, that is important to me so sometimes that takes precedence.  If I am exhausted all the time, I am of no use to any thing or any one.

Except for the most elite athletes, sports is generally not high paying work.  How do you fund your athletic career?
Actually, you the taxpayer fund my training, and I work hard for every penny.  I work for the Department of Defense, so I am a civil servant.

For someone who wants to take their athletic dreams to an elite level, what steps should they take?
Forget about a social life. But this really depends on where you are starting from. 

For me there are 2 questions here: what steps should people take to take their athletic dreams to the elite level, or to actually be good at the elite level. Those are really 2 different things, in my humble opinion. This is like me wanting to play at a Division I school for basketball. That is the elite level, but do I actually want to be good – or be a champion – at the elite level.  I want to work from the latter assumption.

Hopefully, anyone wanting to make that leap is NOT working a full-time job.  In this economy, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I cannot quit my job.  This will always be a limiting factor for me.  If you can work for someone who supports your goals, then that is the perfect scenario.  

Ensure you know exactly what you want and WHY you want it.  This must come from your very core – it must come from your soul.  It must be in your blood – the desire to pursue excellence (not perfection – excellence), the desire to raise your game, every day, in every way. 

Ensure the relationships in your life support your goals.  Make time for those important relationships and always ensure THEY know how much you appreciate them and how much they will have to put up with you and your goals.  But you have to be able to give back.  Ensure these relationships are positive.  If you are constantly at odds with people and things – you will constantly be short-changing yourself.

Hire a coach or two.  I do not know of any elite athlete who is good and winning at the elite level who is doing this alone. And, in my humble opinion, you must approach this as a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual journey. You must have your sport specific training tailored to you and a solid strength training program and this needs to be developed as a plan – with short-term and long-term targets and goals.  Your recovery/sleep must be one of your number one priorities. You must tend to your mental and emotional game and make time for meditation and relaxation.

Your nutrition must be one of your TOP priorities.  Don’t settle for just being vegan. You have to go beyond veganism, and incorporate as much whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic if possible foods into your diet as possible. HIGH FRUIT/LOW FAT! If I were just vegan, I would not be where I am today.

One coach in particular you should seriously consider hiring is Dr. Doug Graham – even if for sporadic consultations.   If anything – read/listen to his material and attend a seminar or camp – or two.  Train with other elite athletes.  Observe what they do – help each other.

Never forget why you are doing what you are doing. One of my favorite quotes is from Earl Nightingale:  "There seems to be a door on the way to remarkable success that can be passed through only by those willing to persevere beyond the point where the majority stops and turns back.”

How do you incorporate promoting veganism into your sporting life?
I just live my life. I think people respond to me better by not being a street corner preacher and the message sticks. People come to veganism for different reasons (health, ethical, environmental). Know who you are talking with first and meet them where they are. Extend grace. And remember the grace extended to you in your journey.

I have been a speaker at the Animal Rights Conference and hope to be there again this summer.

I promote OrganicAthlete, FoodnSport, Living Nutrition, and other like-minded organizations and people on my website. It’s a part of who I am and I want people to know that.