This segment of the Active Outdoor Vegans series is with Dave Shishkoff, from VeganStart.org, a long-time vegan and an avid cyclist and outdoor adventurer! From mountain biking, to road cycling, to velodrome track racing, if it’s on a bike, Dave’ll be there! He’s also a long-time member of Organic Athlete, so he’s clearly well outfitted for his cycling adventures!
What is/are your favourite outdoor activities?
Cycling, by far! Also enjoy hiking regularly, and climbing when I can, and have done a little bit of stand-up paddleboarding.
When did this interest begin and what got you started?
Began cycling as a kid of course. When I moved to Victoria, BC, in 1994, a friend was into mountain biking, and got me out for a few rides, and was hooked! Lived in Vernon for a year, and really got into it riding the trails there. Didn’t get into racing until around 2004 when a mountain biking friend got me to try out the velodrome, where I was instantly hooked and began racing.
Do you enjoy races/competitions? And, if so, what about them do you most enjoy?
Yes – I have a competitive streak, so this is a great outlet! When you can find a group of racers of a similar level of fitness, it’s really satisfying challenging each other, and also encouraging each other. On an individual level, I really enjoy time trial events, so it’s great seeing progress in those areas as well.
On a deeper level, as a vegan, it’s really important to prove that being vegan isn’t a hindrance, and competing (especially successfully!) proves this — and I get a great pleasure from winning races, usually hollering afterwards: “Eat your veggies, kids!”
What led you to the vegan and plant-based path? And what motivates you most to continue with the vegan lifestyle?
There is a lot of cancer in my family, so originally it was because of reading how this is one of the primary areas we can prevent cancer. Now, however, it’s entirely for ethical reasons – I don’t want to harm others, or the planet. The health perks are nice too.
Was the transition to a plant-based diet difficult? What advice would you give to others who are just starting out?
Well, I went vegan my first day of high school, so perhaps I’m a sucker for adversity! It wasn’t actually very hard at all for me. For others starting out, I would share this advice from my VeganStart.org program: focus less on ‘eliminating foods’, and instead put an effort into making vegan meals. Commit to vegan breakfasts to start, and then keep working on the rest of your meals.
Did you experience any changes in athletic performance once going plant-based?
I can’t really say, since I was so young when I went vegan, and I was also not at all athletic or active – it wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I began racing.
What is your favourite plant-based snack to have with you during activity? And what is your favourite plant-based meal to have afterwards?
I’ve got a bit of a finicky gut – popular foods like dates, figs and nut-based snacks or bars have a really negative effect on me at high levels of intensity. It’s best described as a mixture of cramping and asthma – it’s not good. Oddly, wheat and oats are fine, so I lean towards foods with these. The best bar in the world were the old Nature’s Path ones, and I really loved the Chocolate Orange flavour. Now I’ll go for something like a granola bar, or prepackaged cookies like the triple-packs from Sweets from the Earth. Why not have cookies instead of bars?
What does your ideal day, one filled with outdoor activity, look like?
It’d be a nice long (5-6hr) rip around Victoria with some of my riding friends, and then a wander around Clover Point with my sweetie in the evening. (Walking is a surprisingly good recovery activity!)
What do you feel is the best part about being vegan?
Knowing that I’m effectively reducing harm to others.
What is your most cherished accomplishment so far (athletic or otherwise)?
Simply showing that you can be highly competitive and vegan. When I first started, people would crack jokes about ‘getting enough protein’ and other stereotypical and unoriginal remarks, but after stuffing most of them in the hurt locker at one point or another, all these comments stopped, and people started asking questions interested in eating more vegan foods.
But if I were to brag, a few highlights include winning a few Provincial bronze medals on the velodrome, finishing 3rd in the Cat3’s at the popular Bastion Square crit, and finishing Top 3 Overall in both the Victoria Cycling League racing series, and Greater Victoria Velodrome Racing League series.
I’m also really proud of OrganicAthlete Victoria, and the events we’ve put on, like the Save-A-Turkey Trot (fun 5k run, encouraging a vegan Thanksgiving), the Durian Cup mountain bike race (so named, because our main mountain bike trails are literally beside the landfill, aka The Dump), and the OA Omniums at the velodrome. (Fun fact: when I was a board member and organizing velodrome race events, I’d make the food options all vegan, and so people would find themselves with vegan pizza, etc.)
You are a long time member of Organic Athlete. Could you tell us a little about what it’s like to be a member as well as what inspired you to start a new chapter a number of years ago in your home town (Victoria, BC)?
I’m very mission-focused, and so when I found out about OA, I was ecstatic! There were other people who were trying to do the same thing as me! I’ve also been organizing vegan and animal rights protests, events, and organizing groups for a decade prior, so it was easy for me to get it going, along with some other cool people from the area.
You have long enjoyed sharing the vegan lifestyle with others and continue to do so. What project are you currently working on? And could you tell us a bit about it?
I’ve got two projects on the go, both of which I’m extremely proud of, and fortunate to be working on!
VeganStart.org, started in December, is a new project hoping to fill a void in the movement: enabling people to go vegan. There are programs like Meatless Monday, and then 7 or 30 day Vegan Kickstarters, but nothing in-between. What’s more, research shows that people who ease into going vegan, rather than overnight, are much more likely to stick with it. (Contrary to my own experience!) So VeganStart encourages switching to vegan breakfasts, which is very accessible, and not nearly as intimidating for many people as going fully vegan (even if it’s for a week or month.) Our website is our primary resource, but we also have inviting ‘cards’ for people to hand out or leave on bulletin boards, etc, and we’ve been mailing them to places in Canada and the US to encourage others to go vegan.
Even more recently is VeganSupply.ca, an online vegan shop for Canada started by my friend Jason Antony. Currently in Canada, if you want to order common or uncommon vegan goods, the US is where we have to look, and right now the dollar is particularly poor ($0.80 on the US dollar), so it’s very pricey, especially when compounded with Customs fees. Vegan Supply is resolving this issue, and vegan goods can be ordered in a timely fashion (especially nice if you want to order anything that needs refrigeration!) Most of my work circulates around the website and content, social media, and other online activities, communications and promotions. The response has been incredible, and I can’t wait to see what happens when we’re ready to fully launch!
Where can people reach or follow you if they would like to learn more?
Check out www.VeganStart.org. If you’re a new vegan, you’ll fit right in! If you’ve been vegan a while, you probably will still learn a ton from the site, and have a new resource to direct people to when they ask ‘how do I go vegan?’ And be sure to follow our social media, we’re always posting interesting news stories and other informative items. (Just look for ‘veganstart’ on Facebook or Twitter.)
And if you’re looking for vegan goodies, be sure to click over to www.VeganSupply.ca – I promise you’ll find a number of items you won’t be able to resist!
Thanks, Dave, for sharing a bit about your vegan journey, along with your passion for cycling and outdoor adventure!