The subject of today’s ‘This Is What A Vegan Looks Like’ is truly inspirational. Fiona Oakes is a British marathon runner, who holds three world records for marathon running. In 2013, she won both the Antarctic Ice Marathon and the North Pole Marathon. She has the fastest aggregate time for completing a marathon on each continent and does all of this despite losing a kneecap from an illness when she was 17.
Not only that but she runs the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary which provides a home for life to around 400 rescued animals, both domestic and ex-farm.
Fiona has been vegan her entire adult life and through her actions is demonstrating extraordinary kindness and compassion to the animals in her care (which you can read more about on the Sanctuary’s facebook page) and is helping to smash the “you can’t be vegan and sporty” myth.
I am truly in awe of everything she’s accomplished and am delighted to share this interview with you!
1/ What made you go vegan?
I went vegetarian at the age of 3 – a totally ‘self-inspired’ and obvious decision made purely through my love of animals and an inbuilt desire not to harm them in any way, hence I certainly did not want to consume their flesh. Then, as time went on I began to ask my Mother questions as to where other animal products such as eggs and milk came from and why the animals ‘chose’ to give them to us. My Mother was presented with 2 options – she either lied or told me the truth. She decided to tell me the truth and from that time I decided veganism was the only option for me in life. This is when I was 6 years old and it wasn’t so much a decision as a natural reaction to the revulsion I felt to the cruelty and exploitation involved in all animal based ‘industries’. I will add that it has not been an easy path to follow – especially at this young age – as, although I had my Mother’s full support she did not have that support from those around her. She was actually accused of child abuse by health professionals when they realised I was vegan – even though I was extremely healthy – when I was admitted to hospital for an orthopaedic problem in my early teenage years. She has always argued that if there was ever an issue of ‘child abuse’ it would be to lie and force feed your child something they clearly did not wish to consume for very valid, rational and real reasons.
2/ If you could only watch 3 TV programmes for the rest of your life, what would they be?
TV – I don’t really get much of a chance to watch it so I actually don’t have any specific programmes I tune in to but I am going to go with The News – just so I can keep on with what is going on in the world, Athletics – because I love sport and Dr Who because it is pure fantasy fiction which constantly changes, alters it’s format and dynamic so it remains interesting by the element of surprise.
3/ What or where’s your favorite place in the entire world?
I love being at the Sanctuary surrounded by all my precious animal family but I also love the Sahara Desert – the harsh hostility of the conditions there, the unforgiving heat, the relentless sand dunes, the austerity of the landscape, it all brings you back down to earth with a real bump and makes you appreciate every single thing we have available to us in daily life as well as the tenuous nature of your own mortality. Very often the most precious things in life are taken for granted such as water, shade, food, shelter and your own health. It’s a real ‘leveller’ when it comes to considering what really matter as opposed to those we are told by media and advertising that we really need to make us happy but are actually so superfluous to requirements when survival is the only issue. I have been lucky enough to be in places where you realise that Mother Nature is so powerful and survival is not a given but a blessing – the North Pole, Antarctica and the high altitude of the Atacama Desert are just a few such places I can think of.
4/ What are the vegan options like where you live?
Sadly, pretty non-existent actually! I live in a very rural, farming community because we need to live where there is land for the animals to graze. Because we have so many large animals – 65 horses as well as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys etc. – we had to move into a pretty remote area in order to be able to afford to be able to buy a property with any land at all. However, because we have so many animals to care for I never actually have time, or money, to go out so the lack of vegan options does not impact me as much as it would others who have time for a more ‘social’ lifestyle. Having said that, I would love there to be more vegan options available whether I were to be able to take advantage of them or not because if they are there, other people might considering sampling them, seeing how great they were and adopting a vegan path in life for whatever reason. Accessibility to options is one of the keys to the introduction and promotion of veganism to the masses.
5/ What is your idea of happiness?
Being at the Sanctuary and being able to see the animals so contented and enjoying their life together. I love to see the animals interact with each other on their terms rather than on mine. For instance, seeing the horses gallop freely, play together, graze, groom each other and lead as natural a life and as near to what they would have in the wild as I can possibly provide within the rules, regulations and other restrictions I have to adhere to at the Sanctuary, with me being the overseer and care-provider. The same things applies to all the animals here, we like them to have freedom and be able to express themselves in terms of who they are rather than who us humans want them to be. On a wider spectrum my idea of happiness would be a vegan, cruelty-free world full of respect for all creatures – human and non-human alike.
6/ Which three other vegans would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Patrik Baboumian – so we could talk about sport, Keegan Kuhn – because we share so many common interests, ideas and ideals and can put those ideas into action and bring them to a wider audience through his fantastic film making skills and Phillip Wollen because he is passionate and articulate but he is also a philanthropist who has the fund base to make ideas into realities so perhaps I could convince him to fund one of my next new projects for the animals!
7/ Do you have a favorite motto, if so, what is it?
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. This works very well in so many aspects of my life – from the Sanctuary perspective you obviously don’t want to leave jobs as you never know what will crop up the next day so you always have to be well prepared and have everything well in hand and be ready for the next expected ‘unexpected’ emergency. You always know you will have the feeding, mucking out, medications etc. to do but beyond that ‘anything can happen’ so always have to be at the ready. Only yesterday we had a call from the Police about some ponies who needed help so by the afternoon we were setting off on a 200 mile round trip to bring them back to the Sanctuary. From by training point of view the motto works as I am a high mileage, heavy disciplined athlete who requires very strict regulatory, structure and routine to my training. Basically, I always have to ‘nail’ every session to give me the motivation to do the next one so I never put anything off. If it’s in the schedule it gets done on the day. Also, life is short and very transient and can end at any time for whatever reason – that’s why every day counts and what you can do in that day to benefit others really matters as one day, tomorrow won’t come!
8/ What are your all-time fave vegan things to eat?
Dates, Siberian Pine Nuts and Battenburg cake – especially those made by my friends as the Vegan Cakery!
9/ What song do you most like to dance to at a party?
Party, Dance?!?!?!? I don’t get a lot of time for that sort of thing but, if I had to say it would probably be Happy by Pharrell Williams. The last time I actually danced was not at a party but on the Start Line of the ‘toughest footrace on the planet’ Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert. Before each day’s stage they played this song and asked competitors to dance along to it. Pretty tough thing to do when you are standing in blistering heat waiting to run up to 100km across a Desert carrying a backpack weighing 10 kilos, but when you actually think about it happy is exactly what you should be. Happy that you have the freedom, ability, health and fitness to even be contemplating such a huge feat of physical endurance and even happier that you are doing on a 100% plant-fuelled body and no other creature has suffered as a consequence of you being there.
10/ Who in the world would you most like to see go vegan?
Everyone – but if you want me to name a specific person it is quite tough. I might go for someone like Prince Harry purely because he can command an awful lot of global interest from a very wide range of society, social genres and the crossover and reach would be immense. I think he would therefore have a great impact in terms of the fact he is everything a lot of people perceive a vegan not to be, right through the scale, from social status to his active lifestyle choices. That would be my only reason for picking him, because I think he could have a very great impact for the benefit of animals and would breakdown a lot of false stereotypes and myths surrounding veganism.
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If you’ve read this interview and feel as AMAZED by Fiona’s achievements as I am and want to support Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, they have a live campaign at the moment whereby a supporter is doubling donations made for the poultry shelter they need to build (due to avian flu threat each winter) which you can contribute to here.