I have heard vegans struggle athletically because they don't get enough protein in their diet.
It used to make sense to me, considering we all have been told that milk does a body good and meat provides the stamina needed to get through a tough workout.
Plants, yeah, they're important, too. But it takes much more to keep you going.
Or at least I thought so. Then I met Ellen Jaffe Jones.
The 66-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident has been vegan since she was 28 when she suffered a colon blockage primarily from, as she puts it, her love of brie.
She jokes about it now, but it was scary then, and forced her to re-evaluate her eating habits.
She had other things to consider as well. Breast cancer had affected her family. As she watched her loved ones struggle with the disease, she promised herself she would take steps to live the healthiest lifestyle possible.
Although with completely changing her diet, running became a part of her life. She never worried about winning races, only about how her body feels during and after a workout or race.
“Running on the beach in the early morning, listening to music and seeing the seagulls, it is almost like an out-of-body experience,” Jaffe Jones said.
It's been good for her inside her body as well.
While she never had a goal of being a competitive runner, she has accumulated 148 medals over the years. They all hang in her spare bedroom as a shrine to the power of eating right.
At 66, her medals keep coming. At the running portion of the 2018 Florida Senior Games in Clearwater High School, held Dec. 9, she didn't let a three-hour rain delay affect her performance.
She won state championships in the 50-, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter races in the 65-69 age division. She is proud of the accomplishment because she said her current age division is where her competitors say their bodies start falling apart the most.
Meanwhile, she has stayed strong, mostly due to her dietary choices.
Her refrigerator remains filled with spinach, carrots, peanut butter and a container of algae-esque smoothie, among other healthful items. It is an example of practicing what she preaches, which is that people can eat a vegan diet and still be athletically dominant.
She noted her secret weapon is beet juice, which she drinks religiously before races.
Consider her gold medal times in the six races at Clearwater High all were faster than when she competed in the same events in the 2016 Florida Senior Games. She cut one minute, seven seconds off her 1,500-meter time (her winning time in this year's event was 8:28.19). She knows it isn't often runners at her age can cut time, but she did it.
She said her diet continues to help her recovery after races.
It also helps her battle other maladies that life sends her way. In January, she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain in joints, along with swelling. She experiences foot and lower back pain.
After she was diagnosed, she thought she would be happy just walking, let alone competing against the better runners in the state in her age group.
She knows there is no total cure for her condition, but her diet and her personal choices put her in a better position to go forward. She is following the advice of a noted vegan dietician, Dr. Brooke Goldner, and drinks 64 ounces of whole-grain smoothies a day, that same algae-esque smoothie I saw in her fridge. It looks gross, but it does the job, she said.
Her pain has subsided. She feels good enough to continue running.
“I feel lucky, really lucky,” Jaffe Jones said. “Running is a gift that can be yanked from you in a heartbeat.”
Hopefully, it won't be yanked from her anytime soon. Her state championships have qualifier her to the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M., June 14-25. You can bet she will be there.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.