Olympic Gold Medallist David Smith talks to Vegan Life about why he believes his recovery from surgery was improved by having a plant-based diet


David Andrew Smith is a vegan athlete and an Olympic gold medallist with an incredible story of recovery and unflinching determination to heal, improve, and embrace every day. We spoke to David to learn more about his remarkable journey and his praise for a plant-based diet.


‘In May 2010 I was diagnosed with a rare tumour that was growing inside my spinal cord at C3-C6, which is at neck level. The surgeon cut through the front of my neck, removed some vertebrates and removed the tumour. Unfortunately several days after surgery I suffered from a blood clot inside the cord which paralysed me from the neck down. I was rushed back into hospital and went through another neck operation to decompress the spinal cord. I woke up from this surgery with no movement from the neck down apart from in my right arm.


Every five months I would be back into the MRI machine for five years and all was going well until my scan in April 2014. This scan showed some enhancement inside the cord and three months later it was a full-blown tumour. This time they cut through the back of my neck to remove the tumour and I had to go through learning to walk again, and rebuild my body all over again after the surgery on 14th of October 2014.


My tumour has a 68% regrowth chance so I will be getting MRI scans every five months for life. It is hard to live with something like this, but I believe it’s down to perception. I have perceived every surgery as a challenge, a challenge of both mind and body. So like a race on my bike, I will never give up to this tumour and fight to thrive in life every day. I see myself as lucky that I know what it is like to lose the ability to walk. To lose the ability to do what we all take for granted every day is heart-breaking, but it also reminds me every day now on my bike just how lucky I am to be alive and able to ride.


I became Vegan in 2013, I had been feeling pretty unwell and decided I had to change. I came across Rich Roll’s book (Finding Ultra) and after reading that I knew exactly what I needed to do. I started adding in more plant based foods as I dropped animal produce and I felt great. The more stuff I dropped the better I felt. Then I started researching more and came across Brendan Brazier and that was it. I woke up the next morning and went 100% vegan. So what started off as a health reason, became a sports performance reason, which finally became an ethical one and one to support our planet. The more I read the more I wish I had found this as a child.


During my first surgery I was not vegan and it took me over two years to recover. I didn’t really make a full recovery until I went plant based. Going into the second surgery, I just knew it would be different. Whilst in hospital I had eight juices a day from the Juice Well in London. Those guys sent me them fresh every morning. I know my recovery from this surgery has been so fast due to my vegan lifestyle. I had blood tests done at about three months post-surgery and it was the best they had ever been in my life. There is no way I could have recovered this fast if I had still been eating a standard western diet. I have never felt so great. I feel that my ability to recover between sessions is unreal. Six weeks after surgery I was on the turbo and four months after my operation with only six weeks off walking sticks I did a three week camp in Spain and covered over 1000 miles and climbed 89,727ft on my bike.


I owe my fast recovery to eating plant based, and on my first one hundred mile ride back on the bike I was told “you can’t fuel that on plants”. I very politely said “not only is it fuelled on plants, I could not walk without a walking stick six weeks ago”. They looked rather confused at my reply…


The next thing for me is to climb Month Ventoux three times in one day, it is over 4000m of climbs and 100km on the bike. It will be six months on from surgery and was my dream when I lay in the hospital bed and could not even stand. I told myself I will climb Ventoux in six months, then move onto the world time trial champs and Rio in 2016. I am proud of having such great support during my battle with this tumour. The support was overwhelming but meant so much to me. I feel privileged that I can now share my story and hopefully inspire people to go live life to the best of their ability and hopefully to try more vegan options on their own journeys. Each person is different but there are some great athletes out there now proving that combing a vegan lifestyle and being an athlete can allow your body to perform at an optimum level day in, day out.’


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