PLATTSBURGH — Gene Baur chose to lead a vegan lifestyle nearly three decades ago to promote his belief in the ethical treatment of animals.
More recently, the Los Angeles native has turned to long-distance running as a means to show how a vegan lifestyle can be a healthy one.
That combination will be on display in Lake Placid this weekend when Baur participates in his first-ever Ironman Triathlon.
“My aim is to demonstrate that vegans can do well participating in triathlon feats,” said Baur, 50, from his home in College Park, Md., recently. “A plant-based diet is a more sustainable, healthier diet.”
Baur ran competitively in high school but had only been a recreational runner as an adult, hitting the running trail two to three times a week, on average.
It was not until the last few years that he began training for distance running.
He ran his first marathon in March 2012 and participated in the Richmond, Va., triathlon last fall and the Los Angeles triathlon in March 2013.
“The Ironman is my most ambitious athletic event to date,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I feel that I will be able to finish the Ironman, and I believe I’ll finish in a reasonable time.
“By training for a triathlon, you become more in tune with your body,” he added. “You listen to it more, focus more on eating nutrient-rich foods.”
A key to his success will be replenishing nutrients during the race, he said.
“It’s all about eating well. For me, that means plant foods, whole foods, grains. It’s a healthier lifestyle, good for the body, good for the mind, good for the spirit.”
Baur recognizes the difficulty people face when making such a dramatic lifestyle change as becoming vegan but offers national statistics that show vegans have a decreased incidence of heart disease and cancer.
“Most people grow up using animal products. Changing takes time. If you take steps incrementally, I know you’ll start seeing the benefits in no time,” he said.
And age does not have to be a factor, he stressed, emphasizing how former U.S. President Bill Clinton has recently turned vegan and is touting the positive results of his new lifestyle.
Baur remembers as a child being upset when his mother served a whole chicken for dinner, and the image of that intact bird stayed in his mind for weeks to come.
But it was not until he was an adult and began understanding what he felt was disturbing treatment of livestock that he started to consider a vegan lifestyle himself.
His efforts to bring awareness to the plight of animals did not stop with his personal choices, however. Within a year of his switch to a plant-based diet, he had founded the Farm Sanctuary, a farm-animal rescue and protection organization.
Today, his Farm Sanctuary operates a shelter in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and two shelters in California. The facilities serve as homes to animals whose lives are now devoted to comfort and safety.
Baur’s efforts at this year’s Ironman are dedicated to those animals and to a lifestyle he believes will promote a healthier America and a more sustainable food supply.
The Lake Placid Ironman features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon. Nearly 2,000 athletes competed in the 2012 event.
A vegan lifestyle not only eliminates meat and other animal products from the diet but also restricts the use of all animal products, including leather, fur, silk and wool.
A healthy and varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Many of those items provide adequate protein in a varied diet.
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For more information on Farm Sanctuary, visit the organization's website at www.farmsanctuary.org.