Having made history on the Olympic stage as a badass cyclist, silver medal-winner Dotsie Bausch has taken the next step to confirm that she’s also a badass off the bike. Furthering the message of her powerful and persuasive TedEx Talk, “Olympic Level Compassion,” that led to her selection as one of “The 20 Badass Veg Women Who Are Making History” by ChooseVeg, Bausch launched her non-profit animal protection organization, Compassion Champs, in March of 2017. Never one to shy away from facing staggering odds – just like she did in the 2012 London Games while riding for Team USA, whose unlikely and triumphant story is chronicled in the Netflix documentary “Personal Gold” – her outfit’s first initiative is the disruption of the dairy milk industry through an elite athlete-driven campaign called XMilk.
A former world record holder, eight-time U.S. National Champion on the road and track, and a cycling color commentator on television, Bausch was compelled to adopt a compassionate plant-based lifestyle after seeing an exposé about the routine cruelty of factory farming. She trained for and competed in the Olympics on a plant-based diet. Now retired from professional cycling, she speaks passionately around the world as the voice of farm animals, spreading her message about the numerous benefits – humane, nutritional and environmental – of plant-based eating as a lifestyle choice for athletes and non-athletes alike.
Fueled by Compassion
The Olympic Games. You can almost hear the NBC Olympic theme song playing in your head. We watch as stars of athleticism zoom across our television screens, catching our attention and gaining our admiration. The Olympics have always celebrated incredible grit, resilience and competition. Understandably, mercy or compassion might not be the first words that come to mind when we think about an Olympic athlete’s attributes. For me, however, the two pieces are inseparable, and both very close to my heart.
My experience as an Olympic cyclist, which included a silver medal victory in the 2012 Games, was accompanied by a journey even more meaningful, invigorating and rewarding – namely, my choice to incorporate kindness into my daily life in a way I never had before. At every meal, I made a conscious decision to reject cruelty and endorse love.
My choice to adopt a plant-based diet was not simply emotional. After all, I’m a straight-shooter – a direct, intense and logically minded person. As it turned out, from both an ethical and practical perspective, no other lifestyle made sense, and I wanted people to realize it too. After years as an athlete, I felt a deeper calling, and I’ve never turned back since.
My journey to the Olympic cycling podium is marked by struggle and self-discovery. A former runway model, I battled cocaine addiction and anorexia at a young age. After two suicide attempts, I found myself at a crossroads and made the choice to fight for my life. Recovery was not easy. My story is highlighted by moments of personal reflection and powerful proactivity. Choosing to fight for my life was one of these moments. Choosing to fight for the lives of animals was another.
After years of self-destructive behaviors, sickness, and addiction I underwent years of intensive therapy. When my therapist advised that I incorporate exercise into my recovery plan, I randomly selected cycling, which quickly became a passion and grounding force in my life. I found myself rapidly improving, training six hours a day, six days a week. Years of practice and rigorous discipline finally brought me to the Olympic level. I did all of this, all of this training and so much more, eating no meat whatsoever.
I was compelled to go meatless after seeing an exposé about the routine cruelty of factory-farming. Horrified, I watched pigs and cows beaten, blinded, prodded and burned. I immediately felt disgust towards what I had witnessed, and I was both humbled and ashamed, realizing that I was a mediator of this brutality. As the program concluded, I decided that I would no longer support an industry that senselessly, kills, traumatizes and punishes innocent animals, who are all capable of feeling and loving. That night, with the same brand of determination that propelled me as an athlete, I decided that I would never eat meat again – no matter how hard it would be.
But how can an Olympic-level athlete be properly sustained without meat?
Perhaps you think, as many do, that going meatless will weaken you or deprive you of protein. Protein is, however, found in large quantities, in plants, fruits and vegetables. In fact, several plant-based choices often offer larger amounts of protein than meat. One hundred calories of beef, for instance, has 10 grams of protein, while one hundred calories of spinach has 12. This way of eating offers several health benefits as well. Scientific evidence clearly indicates that meatless diets lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Cortisol in many meats is compellingly linked to tumor growth, for example.
Soon after my dietary change, I experienced mental clarity and physical rejuvenation. After intense cycling training sessions, I was able to recover in half the time of my younger teammates. In fact, as a plant-based athlete, I stood on the Olympic platform at almost 40 years old – the oldest Olympic competitor ever in my specific discipline!
But I’m far from the only elite athlete who has experienced the competitive edge of a plant-based diet. In 2016, Kendrick Farris, the only American male weightlifter to compete at the Olympics, was fueled by his protein-packed vegan diet. Other celebrated Olympians from past years, including nine-time track gold medalist Carl Lewis, mixed martial arts great Mac Danzig and tennis legend Martina Navratilova are plant-based as well.
Whether ethical, nutritional or environmental, the paths to plant-based are plentiful. Moreover, in enabling a more compassionate world, the lifestyle is incredibly rewarding. Since going vegan, I’ve felt kindness spreading to new areas of my life, rippling into my conversations, soothing arguments and enabling patience, love and understanding.
I’ve coined the term “Olympic Level Compassion” to encapsulate my belief that each person has the potential to spread goodness in a unique, far-reaching way. Surely we all consider the people we want to be and the world we want to see. I urge you to recognize your ability to help bring that image to life. To adopt a plant-based lifestyle is simply to acknowledge that compassion falls into your worldview, and to act accordingly. Taking that small step can do more good than you would ever imagine.
Dotsie Bausch is an Olympian and silver medalist from the London 2012 Olympic Games and a seven-time U.S. National Champion in cycling. She recently launched the non-profit, social impact animal protection organization, Compassion Champs. Compassion Champs’ mission is to be the “meat eaters” compassion University, and via a video series highlighting unique stories of Champs from all walks of life in athletics, nutrition, health, environment and disease prevention, encourage a change to a plant based diet.
Strength Impresses Us But What We Remember is Kindness
These words serpentined their way through my entire athletic career. Sometimes they even haunted me. Sport, at the highest level, in all its majesty and glamour, can be intoxicating. It can be intoxicating to be in it and it can even be intoxicating to those who follow it. Prime example of those who follow it; your crazed next door neighbor who literally lives and breathes for Sunday football and rooting for his favorite team, but who was never any good at it. Being intimate with sport at the highest level does not require YOU to be the sporting figure, as humans the world over who have never thrown a straight ball in their life, are enamored with elite athletes and sports. I admit, it’s pretty darn awesome to see that kind of talent in action. I guess it’s our survival of the fittest nature. I experienced this excitement and glitz as an Olympic medalist. I also experienced many athletes before me and many after me find athletic success in the form of World Championship medals and Olympic podiums. A feeling about this topic stuck with me though and it always will. The cycling sports heroes I remember, were teammates with or knew in the cycling peloton that I truly looked up to never seemed to be the ones always winning the gold medals. Some of them were, but certainly not all. The ones I looked up to were the ones that were kind to me. The ones that offered a bottle in the midst of a 100 degree stage, when I was a mere domestique. The ones who sat with me at the dinner table at night and told me I would live to fight another day, when on day 12 of the 14 day stage race, I was absolutely sure I was dying a slow but imminent death. The ones who never gloated, never reminded me of their many victories, never flaunted their medals, never puffed their chests. The ones I remember are the ones who put humanity first, kindness displayed on the shelf of victory and love, simple, yet so hard to evoke, love. They showed love. Not selfishness and greed for more medals, after plenty were won, but earth shattering kindness that you could only interpret as love. That is what I remember most about the people I met and worked with in elite sport. As glitzy as the medals were, it is how they treated me that I remember most. Their kindness is forever etched in my memory, their smiling faces a vision in my mind when I want to feel appreciated and loved. I respected the strong ones, I was impressed by their strength, but it was surely not at all sustaining. I barely remember those people now. I remember the acts of kindness. Won’t the world remember your acts of kindness towards the least of us, the animals who cannot speak for themselves, the ones who need us most in their darkest hour. I believe, they will remember us too.
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