If you have any interest in fitness or the health aspects of veganism at all, you most likely know of Robert Cheeke.
As a champion bodybuilder, best-selling author and the founder and president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, Robert has not only chiseled out a niche for himself, he’s expanded it vastly. On the eve of the Australian leg of his latest tour, which he’s kicking off at Sydney’s Cruelty Free Festival, we had the pleasure of talking to him about his life, work and ethical veganism.
VI: Hi Robert! First up, you went vegan at 15. Amazing! Why? You said you grew up on a farm; what type of farm, and did this influence your decision?
RC: I became vegan on December 8, 1995 at the age of 15. I grew up on a small 20-acre family farm in western Oregon, USA with chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, goats, horses, and numerous other animals. Living on a farm gave me an elevated appreciation for farm animals, viewing them in many ways, the way I favorably viewed dogs and cats.
VI: Did you struggle when you first went vegan, or were you within a supportive environment?
RC: My transition to a vegan lifestyle happened before the Internet came around, and being in an agriculture community, the environment I was in wasn’t as supportive of my lifestyle as I would have liked. Veganism is certainly more prevalent in my hometown today than it was 20 years ago. I struggled at first to thrive on vegan diet, for reasons I discuss in my book and in my lectures, namely, because I wasn’t eating healthy foods, but rather, I consumed a lot of processed vegan foods.
VI: What drew you to bodybuilding?
RC: Growing up as a skinny kid, I always wanted to be bigger and stronger as I got older. I also dreamed of being a pro wrestler when I grew up, and I admired muscular superheroes like He-Man and Captain Planet. I resonated with the positive messages those fictional characters portrayed and the character traits they instilled in those impressionable minds that looked to them for guidance.
VI: You write, bodybuild, tour, give talks and maintain (let’s be honest!) something of a vegan health and bodybuilding empire. It’s an incredible achievement. What motivates you on a day-to-day basis? How can people reading this become just as motivated in their own personal pursuits?
RC: Thank you for the kind words. It sure has been a rewarding journey the past 20 years. I am motivated every day to make a difference in the lives of others. When I started www.veganbodybuilding.com nearly 15 years ago, I set out to show people how to build muscle and achieve their athletic goals while living a vegan lifestyle. After producing a lot of projects over the years geared toward this mission, my motivation is still the same, to continue to reach more people to save more lives. I resonate with the words from Mark Twain when he said, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things that you did do.” That statement gives me motivation and inspiration to work hard, lift others up, and create innovative projects designed to lead to meaningful outcomes.
VI: Do you still fight against the “vegans are weak and skinny” stereotype, or is
this something that is becoming obsolete thanks to people like yourself?
RC: I started a “No Meat, No Problem” campaign a couple of years ago which shows photos of muscular vegan athletes with that slogan in banner images designed for posts on social media pages. I still promote those images and that idea of ‘No Meat, No Problem,’ but I also feel like awareness of the health, nutrition, and fitness benefits of a vegan lifestyle are at an all-time high. I’ve always felt that the best way to get ideas to spread is to lead by positive example. Therefore, the more vegan athletes that counter this stereotype, the less likely people are to believe the obsolete and fading myth that vegans are weak.
VI: What excites you most about veganism?
RC: The aspect of veganism that excites me the most is saving animal lives and preventing animal cruelty through my actions. That is truly the most rewarding part of a living a compassionate vegan lifestyle to me. Seeing rescued farm animals get a second chance at life, or neglected animals experience the joys of acceptance, comfort, love and care, is something that continues to inspire me to work hard to make a positive difference in the lives of many.
RC: I am very excited to be coming back to Sydney, and back to Australia in general. I have only been to Australia once, and this upcoming tour, starting with the Cruelty Free Festival, will be an outstanding way to begin my second Australian adventure. I have heard wonderful things about the festival and I look forward to presenting, sharing some helpful and inspirational messages with the audience.
VI: What will you be talking about?
RC: I will share a bit about my background, transitioning from a 120-pound skinny non-vegan runner to a 195-pound champion vegan bodybuilder, as well as covering the primary themes in my latest book, Shred It!, which include: setting achievable goals, burning fat, building muscle, creating meal plans and workouts, case studies, transformation stories, and succeeding as a vegan athlete.
VI: Who is your talk aimed at, and who should come along? Let’s say there’s someone who is interested in improving their health through a whole foods plant-based diet, but they don’t necessarily want to start bodybuilding. Is your talk relevant to them too?
RC: I’ve been on a speaking tour for the past 10 years and I really try to connect with a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds and interests. I like to think that anyone interested in any theme related to health and fitness, be it eating more whole foods, increasing energy, burning fat, building muscle, or other related topics, would enjoy my presentation, learn something new, and benefit from being there. I look forward to meeting many new people soon.
VI: What do you want people to get out of the talk you’re touring with?
RC: The main thing I’d like people to take away from my presentation is that they can take control over their health and fitness outcomes through their actions. Behaviors become habits and habits create outcomes. This works with both positive and negative behaviors and habits, and our actions dictate our results. I will provide many clear examples in my presentation about why some people are more likely to achieve their health and fitness goals than others, simply based on habits alone.
VI: What are you most looking forward to about the day?
RC: I am most looking forward to seeing friends and meeting new people, making new friends. I hope this is just the start of adding Australia to my yearly speaking tour. I’d like to thank the Cruelty Free Festival, for welcoming me, and inviting me to speak at the event. I greatly appreciate the opportunity.
VI: Beyond the festival, what’s next for you? Do you have any exciting plans in the pipeline?
RC: I will visit some other cities in Australia and once I return home to the USA, I have another large vegan festival I’ll be speaking at in Portland, Oregon, which will cap off a seasonal speaking tour presenting at six vegan festivals over six consecutive weekends. After that, I’ll get right back to work on more writing projects. I contribute to every issue of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine and I have other books I plan to write. All the while, I hope to spend a lot of time in the gym too.
Robert Cheeke is the best-selling author of Shred It! and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, a two-time champion bodybuilder, and founder/president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness.
Photos: Supplied, Cruelty Free Festival.
Disclaimer: Elena Wewer also writes for the Cruelty Free Festival.