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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Amazing Vegans Part 1

I am very lucky to be surrounded by some of the most amazingly inspirational people all of whom, in their own way, have helped me not only in my journey from carnist to vegan but in my journey through life.

The list is long (very long, it should keep me going in blogs for years) but there are a few in particular who live large in my life at the moment and I hope to feature them all in much more detail over the next few months. For now, let me introduce a few of them briefly and finish today with a more in-depth tribute to possibly THE most amazing vegan it has ever been my privilege to know.

In my ocean conservation campaigning I am delighted to have Darren Collis of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a close friend. Darren won the Unsung Hero Award at this year's Vegfest, Europe's largest veggie event and is seen in this picture receiving the Mahaveer Award which he won in 2007.

Darren's story is the most wonderful tale of selfless commitment to others, although those who know him will already know that "others" recognises no species distinction, we all share this planet and most of us need to become much better at sharing than we have been so far. I look forward to telling Darren's tale, not least as an example of the sort of person Paul Watson is talking about when he says that passion is what matters. Passion is important not just at sea but also onshore, doing what needs to be done to keep other equally passionate people at sea. Having (rather a lot of) ability to back the passion up is, of course, a very nice bonus.

From the world of business I am proud to be a long-time friend and associate of Martin Stepek who I hope will tell us his own story as a guest blogger in the very near future. Martin is a business lecturer, motivational speaker and expert leader in mindfulness. You may recall that I mentioned him in my blog of 2nd November, "What's important on your bucket list?" my own tribute to the memory of his father Jan.


Martin is one of the kindest, most generous people I know, not just financially, he is generous with his time, that most precious of all commodities. In this picture he is promoting Wildhearts in Action , another amazing charity which I will also be blogging about in due course (if only there were 24 days in every week and 124 hours in every day: I might be able to fit it all in!)

My third Amazing Vegan for future blogging is Anna Oliver who I have mentioned already in connection with her campaign to get to Taiji and defend dolphins and pilot whales, see link here:  ANNA'S TAIJI CAMPAIGN PAGE

Anna's tale will be easy to follow as we will both be blogging day by day from Taiji, sharing our thoughts on the horrors unfolding there and hopefully exploring the art of the possible as we consider alternatives to the wholly unnecessary murder of beautiful, sentient animals in the killing cove that place enshrines.

You don't need to go there yourself to be part of our Taiji experience - if you follow the link above and contribute to that campaign fund then you will know that you are making change possible. Our efforts are all assisted by others and in Anna's case will be directly assisted by your thoughtful donations. If you are able to donate then you will become a part of her amazing story.

None of these three people do what they do because they are vegans, however, they are all vegans for exactly the same reason as they do what they do. Specifically, they are all caring compassionate people, none of whom tolerate fools gladly but all of whom nurture, encourage, aid and assist those who wish to be better custodians of this, our planet, to do just that. All of them lead by example.

Fiona Oakes, An Amazing Vegan


Let me now introduce possibly the most inspirational individual I have ever met, the truly amazing vegan, Fiona Oakes.

Here is a quote from her bio on her public facebook page, "Fiona was the first lady to finish in the masses race of the Great North Run last year - YES FIRST !! & the Media ignored her !! She headed a team of runners for the Vegan Society, who all proudly wore their Team Vegan vests - perhaps something to do with the fact she was ignored as the media seem to love ignoring any positive vegan role models."

That quote, dear readers, is what inspired today's entire blog. Vegans are not World famous (not our fault). Nobody ever got rich - at least not in a monetary sense - by being vegan (how could we?). Nobody even got an award for achievement from outwith the vegan community by being vegan (you need to be something far more ordinary for that).

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not (yet) vegan please do me a favour; share today's blog, help these amazing people get the recognition they deserve from beyond our small community of caring, compassionate souls.

Other info on Fiona's page describes just some of her achievenments:

Fiona holds the course record for the Essex Country Marathon Championship which she won in 2007 - her record still stands today. She is the only female runner to run under 3 hours on the course in its 17 year history.

Fiona has come top 10 in several international marathons (Florence, Moscow & Amsterdam and Nottingham) and top 20 in London & Berlin (two of the 5 Major City Marathons, the biggest races in the world)

To top it all, Fiona became the FIRST vegan runner to complete the soul-destroying, most gruelling of all marathons - billed as and acknowledged internationally to be THE toughest race on Earth - the Marathon des Sables.

The Marathon des Sables is a race distance of 154 (ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR) miles across the Sahara Desert run in temperatures ranging from sub zero overnight to 130° Fahrenheit during the day. Oh, and while she competed, Fiona carried all her supplies on her back as she ran.

Both in training for this ultra-marathon and for all the other races which she still competes in, Fiona regularly runs between 80 and 100 miles a week maintaining fitness and building stamina and strength. For most of us, that would be a full-time task in itself. For the elite runners who Fiona is competing against it is a full-time job.

There is something I don't know how to fit in without testing your disbelief but I need to do it sometime so it might as well be now: at age 14 Fiona suffered a debilitating condition which left her using crutches for years, cost her one knee replacement and severely damaged the other knee. Doctors told her she would never walk properly again, never mind run. She understates things but you need to know that she has already accomplished a miracle and - as she cannot run without pain - continues to achieve miracles every single day.

I describe Fiona as THE most amazing vegan though because as well as the physical challenges which she has had to overcome and as well as doing all of that fitness training, competing and WINNING to prove that you can do it as a vegan if you give it all as a vegan she also cares personally for every single animal at the animal welfare sanctuary which she runs, Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary.

Tower Hill is not a small affair. Every single morning Fiona's alarm rings at 0330 and before she can even think about that day's training she feeds, cleans, mucks-out and otherwise cares for over 400 animals all of whom depend on her - and now also on you.

I do hope you will all click on THIS LINK and spend time on Fiona's charity web site. Please read about what an amazing thing she is achieving at Tower Hill and please, please, please find it in your heart to donate to help her. If you do nothing other than buy a calendar, you will still be helping but I hope those of you who can afford to will do a whole lot more.

The first time I heard about Fiona was as a brand new vegan seeking help from The Vegan Society who sent me the DVD, Making The Connection. This is Fiona's part in that video and I will let her add significantly to today's blog by letting her continue this part of the story herself;


Not so very long ago I was a bit of a runner and long distance walker but in the last few years before I became vegan I had become flabby, lethargic, unmotivated and always just enough "under-the-weather" to talk myself out of exercise. Generally speaking I was fairly typical of my demographic.

Vegan - done properly - changes you, it changes you for the better. How could it not? Eating healthily as a vegan is about as close as it's possible to get to the nutritional balance our bodies were designed for and it isn't lost on me that the World's top athletes are trending more and more towards a purely vegan diet. The sports nutritionists may not call it that, of course, but if your diet contains plant-based nutrition only then it is vegan regardless of what your own sense of identity has you believing.

After I had seen that video, I asked for an introduction to Fiona and asked her for some advice on getting back into running. I had no idea just how huge Tower Hill was at that point or how full on Fiona's life was. Looking back I am a bit embarrassed to have been even just a wee bit demanding of her time but, true to type, Fiona was as generous with her time (insanely, unselfishly generous) as the other three vegan influencers on my life who I mentioned earlier, Darren, Anna and Martin - as well as unmentioned Rob and Chris and Amanda and Elaine and Gemma and Alex and Gary and Andy and a cast of at least tens of others if maybe not yet hundreds or even thousands. Vegans really are rather a nice bunch.

Fiona, thank you for everything you do and thank you all for reading.