Pizza. Boxed mac & cheese. Dino nuggets. Lunchables. Most American children subside off these kid-friendly convenience foods, provided to them by their well-intentioned yet misguided parents. Many would admit that these animal-laden, processed food staples are not the healthiest of options, but this fact is often dismissed with a shrug – at least they’re getting protein and calories, right?
Although parents may be a bit lax about what they feed their kids, they tend to have extremely strong opinions about raising children on a vegan diet. Despite the fact that most kids grow up on processed snacks and fast-food, parents suddenly become hyper-concerned about their children’s nutritional needs when faced with the suggestion of a plant-based diet. Not Rob Brothers. His nine-year-old daughter, Maya, has been vegan for about four months, and her track record (literally) proves that she is thriving.
Maya has always been an athletic kid. By the age of nine, she has already participated in ten different sports, but fell in love with running and track cycling last year. Her dad explained that she had watched a TedX talk by vegan Olympic silver medalist, Dotsie Bausch, and it inspired her to get on the bike as well. Un-phased by doubt and full of hope at this young age, Maya decided she was going to be an Olympian, just like Bausch.
As it turns out, Maya is a budding track cyclist rockstar. In early May, she competed in the Age 10 Division at the NE Regional Track Cycling Championships. Due to the low turnout for this age range, the race combined the boys and the girls. Maya flew by the competition, winning three events overall. That’s right. This vegan girl beat the boys.
She’s also a superstar in the 4x400 track race. A few weeks ago, her track and field team, Conshohocken Electric Force, won this event with Maya setting an impressive lead as the first runner. She gave her three teammates about a 50-meter cushion, completing her lap in one minute and sixteen seconds. Not bad for a nine-year old. However, for Maya, it’s not about winning. She said, “I love running because everybody’s really nice. There’s not one person I can think of on the team that I’m not friends with.”
This compassionate spirit led her to her decision to go vegan. She explained, “Last year in October, a CNN special came on. It was called ‘Trophy,’ and it explained how animals were being killed and sold for no reason. I was appalled, and that same night I stayed up late to write a three-page- essay on that documentary. The next day, I told my parents I wanted to go vegetarian.”Unlike many parents who may battle their child over this declaration, the Brothers accepted their daughter’s choice, knowing it came from a place of empathy. The family took a trip to Whole Foods in search of new foods, and within a week Maya claimed she was well adjusted to her new meat-free diet.
Maya continued to research the issues surrounding animal welfare and the animal agriculture industry, and after six months of practicing vegetarianism, she committed to going vegan. She said, “I had always considered going vegan, but I thought I would have to give up almost all the foods I like. In spite of that worry…I explained to my dad that I wanted to try being vegan for a week.”
One week has evolved to multiple months of plant-based eating, and Maya is not looking back. “Since my first day of being vegan, I felt so much better and happier. I also noticed an athletic difference, too. My power was going up, and my recovery from sprints and sickness was getting better,”she affirmed.
She also doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on the foods she used to love, as she first presumed. She loves NadaMoo vegan ice cream, vegan turkey, and vegan lasgana. She also listed a few everyday staples incorporated into her abundant, nutrient-dense diet. “My dad makes me smoothies with vegetables in it, and I also eat salads and tofu,”she said. “Additionally, [I eat] whole grains, lots of fruits, soy and almond milk, [and] Brazil Nuts…Vegan foods don’t taste bad just because they’re vegetables,”she stated. Like any other kid (or adult, for that matter), she also enjoys the occasional slice of vegan pizza.
Although the family is able to find vegan-friendly foods at their local Whole Foods, Maya explained that there are not many vegans in her hometown. “I definitely don’t know any other vegan kids,” she commented.“Some of the kids in my grade think it’s weird. But I don’t care. I know that I’m doing good for the animals.”
When she needs to connect with another plant-based athlete, Maya looks to Bausch as a role model. Veganism is becoming more prevalent amongst professional athletes, but Bausch serves as this young athlete’s sole source of professional inspiration due to her tenacious personality and determined activism. In addition to keeping up with cycling on a semi-recreational level, Bausch is currently leading an athlete-driven anti-dairy campaign, Switch4Good.
Maya’s clear sense of self and independence, along with her vegan diet, is no doubt a key element to her early athletic successes. However, like any other nine-year-old, Maya has multiple interests. Beyond sports, she is a creative soul.“I love to write stories and essays,”she said. She also enjoys crafts. “I like making clothes and duct tape purses and tote bags.” Sounds like the makings of a young vegan sustainable fashion designer.
Even at the age of nine, Maya has great ambitions. “When I grow up I want to be a writer, artist, Tour De France rider, and Olympic medalist.”We’ll be eagerly watching for her in the 2028 Olympics!
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