VHF: You’ve been racing since childhood, how did you get your start?
DA: My mum and dad have a motorcycle shop in Tokoroa, the small New Zealand town I grew up in, so I was encouraged to ride from a very young age. My dad also raced with Burt Monroe (World’s Fastest Indian) on the beaches of Auckland in his youth and I think it was his dream for his children to be successful in the sport. He was a really talented guy, but had a big family to support, which put racing on the back burner. I had a knack for it and once I started riding, I never looked back.
VHF: Tell me a little about how a Kiwi boy such as yourself wound up moving to Europe to race the Grand Prix at age 16. I would imagine you experienced a fair amount of culture shock making a life for yourself there without your parents. If so, how did you manage?
DA: Actually, my racing nickname was “The Kiwi Kid,” and yes, there were huge cultural differences coming from New Zealand – especially back then. I had one thing in mind and that was to win a World or American motorcycle championship. I just did what needed to be done and worked things out so I could have a shot at my goals. It was anything but easy. However, giving up was never an option for me. I learned the hard way at times. It was those experiences that brought me to become the smarter and stronger person that I am today.
VHF: Motocross is known to be one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. What inspired you to transition to a vegan diet and how has this affected your performance?
DA: It took years for me to finally work up to transitioning to a completely plant-based diet. I just never took the time to thoroughly educate myself on the topic of vegan nutrition, nor did I have any idea about what a huge carbon footprint I was making by simply sitting down to a meal. Now that I see the benefits, I wish I had made the change sooner. I can only imagine the advantage it would have given me to have been eating this way from the start. I mountain bike regularly and my energy levels are through the roof. I’m able to maintain much longer bouts of endurance without any feeling of depletion post workout. I feel incredible on my motocross bike, still keeping and exceeding lap times of many top racers who are occasionally out riding with me at the track. Another great advantage is increased mental clarity and I’m better able to manage the constant stress of my job.
VHF: What is your four-year-old son Elijah’s experience with the vegan diet?
DA: Elijah has been vegan since early 2015, just like me. Before that, he was mostly non-dairy vegetarian – some eggs. There was a brief period that we fed him wild Atlantic salmon once weekly per his pediatrician’s recommendations, but he never really had interest in eating meat to begin with. Elijah is the sole reason for my wife’s initial re-evaluation of what we as a family were choosing to eat. At six months old, Elijah was exhibiting signs of autism spectrum disorder and we were referred to another doctor. On top of that, he was also getting sick and having to take antibiotics a few times each year for various illnesses such as bronchitis and at one point, pneumonia. At two years old he was diagnosed with the beginning stages of asthma, and that is what really catapulted us into going the extra mile to figure out what was triggering his basic health and neurological issues. It was confusing since we really did think we were raising him in a healthy way – all organic/Ayurvedic food, extended breast-feeding, attachment parenting, non-toxic everything. At that point we decided to do a gluten-free, corn-free diet, which reduced the severity of his health issues, but didn’t resolve them completely. In mid 2014, my wife told me about how the healthiest years of her life were during childhood, when she regularly traveled with Lou Ann, her mother. Lou Ann taught Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage and Ashtanga Yoga at health retreat centers across Europe.
During this time, my wife would spend excessive amounts of time in the kitchen helping the raw vegan chefs prepare food for retreat-goers and staff. Choosing to eat this way for the majority of her childhood really kept her healthy year-round. It wasn’t until Heather had started introducing dairy and eggs back into her diet that she began to experience a number of health issues. So, long story short, it became clear to us that it was time to move closer to being completely plant-based – high raw.
Elijah has been the picture of health since removing all animal products from his diet. When he does come down with a little something, it lasts for a day or maybe two, but his symptoms are extremely mild. He is a lively and boisterous little chap, but we’re grateful that he no longer shows any signs of autism or symptoms of asthma whatsoever.
VHF: Other than all of the nutritional benefits that you’ve experienced from being vegan, how has this change affected other areas of your daily life?
DA: First of all, the airline I travel with rarely has my vegan meal on board regardless of my request. Because of this, I have to bring lots of snacks on board. Prior to travel, I also make it a point to map out all the vegan restaurants on the Happy Cow app. On a recent trip I found a great hidden spot in Copenhagen called 42Raw. My meetings usually revolve around meals, and I find that this is a great opportunity to educate my business associates about veganism after they inquire about the “odd” food items they overhear me ordering. At first people typically aren’t receptive, but once the subject of my age arises, their opinion changes. They’re always amazed and comment that I look a good ten years younger, I can usually see the wheels start turning in their minds and I’m so glad to be the catalyst for a new mental debate for them regarding their eating habits. I’ve met so many great new people, and have noticed that people who thrive on plants tend to exude a much more positive vibe, and are generally just less stressed than most. Inevitably, I’ve also experienced negative feedback about my food choices, but I won’t delve too deeply into that.
VHF: New Zealand’s economy is built almost solely on the dairy and meat industries, we would imagine that these foods were very much a part of your upbringing. Was it particularly challenging to mount the mental hurdle of cutting them out of your diet?
DA: I personally grew up eating mince on toast or bacon and eggs for breakfast, some sort of mince pie for lunch and although my mum made the best roasted vegetables for dinner, they were served with lamb, steak or pork. I was taught from an early age that eating a good sized portion of beef prior to an event was an integral key to success on race day. For many years I maintained this mentality, until 2006 when my doctor voiced his concern with my cholesterol test coming back slightly higher than he would have liked. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so this is when I really started to rethink my eating habits.
My wife had been encouraging me to lessen my meat consumption for years, so I finally gave in and decided to cut red meat out completely. I will admit that it was challenging for me at first, but after educating myself by listening to The China Study on audiobook, watching “Cowspiracy,” “Earthlings” and a few good YouTube videos (Gary Yourofsky, Tim Van Orden, Dan McDonald) that I finally made that pivotal shift into understanding that we humans are designed to thrive on plants. I no longer have the desire to eat animal products of any kind.
VHF: Dirt Rider Downunder magazine titled an article featuring you “Master of All.” Other than winning multiple international motocross and supercross championships along with an American supermoto team championship, what have you been doing to earn such a label?
DA: I have always been very active and involved with my sponsors due to the respect and appreciation I have for all the support they provide me. The relationships I built with those industry leaders, along with my acquired ability to understand many different cultures, was what brought me to assuming the role of global sales manager for numerous brands within the motorcycle industry. My racing and industry knowledge, along with my hard work ethic, is what made for a perfect transition from racing to business. Being part-owner of a couple prestigious brands known for their exceptional quality and performance has given me a successful story after a career of racing.
I’m just thankful that I ended up making the right choices at the right times - my unceasing passion and perseverance is definitely what has gotten me to where I am today. I also don’t have the formal education that most successful business owners possess. I am self-taught and rely on the knowledge gained from life experiences, which in many ways I find to be more beneficial than the other ways of learning.
VHF: I understand that you have a fairly large presence in NZ, how are locals responding to your dietary change? I know that you are quite vocal regarding veganism and have started delivering motivational speeches noting your dietary change as a key factor in your newly increased stamina and overall energy levels. How are New Zealanders receiving this?
DA: For the most part, people are really receptive and curious to learn how I’ve achieved success coming from a particularly challenging background. I’ve been lucky not to have been directly confronted with too much opposition, but I am aware that NZ vegans have often times been openly ostracized. This comes from the thought process that anyone who doesn’t support the dairy industry is undermining NZ’s entire economy, threatening the livelihood of the vast majority.
If anyone does ever bring this up to me, all I could do is compassionately point out that moving towards more sustainable horticulture such as orchards and gardens is something to consider.
It really comes down to the fact that I personally wouldn’t feel good about making a living from the torture of farm animals, devastation of native NZ habitat (driving many species to extinction), waterways clogged with farm animal waste and not to mention all of the starving people worldwide all while livestock are fed copious amounts of feed per day. There are so many arguments to bring up, but it can be hard to drive facts home to people who feel that you are directly threatening their sense of financial security. The best I would be able to do is try and convey a little insight into what these industries are creating on a global scale— not to mention wreaking havoc on their physical health. All that being said, I too was raised with this same mentality, so I can see where they’re coming from.
VHF: You now live in the US, but we imagine your heart is still connected to your roots in NZ. What do you think can be done about the animal agriculture that is taking such a profound toll on the environment there that you mentioned?
DA: My wife, my son and I try and get back at least once per year. The jet-lag can be brutal on my son, so we’re not able to get back for visits as often as we’d like. Although I love NZ, my work is in California for the time being, and I’m grateful to be living here in this beautiful country. I have recently earned my US citizenship after about 10 years of living here.
On our trips back to NZ, I’m always taken aback when confronted with the amount of natural forest degradation that is wiping away portions of my native country’s natural habitat. Our forests are being demolished to make way for more livestock grazing and fields to produce feed for these farm animals.
We really need more vegan advocates on a global scale, so I’ll keep plugging away, getting this message out to as many people as possible.
The harder we push, the closer we’ll get to bringing our planet to a place of balance. It’s going to take a whole lot of proselytizing in a respectful, non-confrontational way to help the majority shift their mentality and adjust the learned behaviors that have been instilled within them over many generations.
Realizing that our children deserve better than what we’ve created for them is something that people urgently need to not only embrace, but to immediately take the necessary steps towards making change. The best start, in my opinion, and with overwhelming evidence backing this opinion, is adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle. Once people shift to this realization, all other aspects of our planetary dilemmas will be more easily recognized and eventually reversed.