A Jacked Pals Special: Vegan Powerlifter and Former PETA Investigator Mike Wolf
I can still clearly remember the first time I ever heard vegan powerlifter Mike Wolf speak about his time as an undercover investigator for PETA. We were in Austin, Texas at the 2014 PlantBuilt Team meet-up and within about five minutes, he literally had almost all 30 vegan athletes in tears.
Mike spoke of cruel acts that most of us (vegan or not) could never even fathom witnessing let alone partaking in. Yet he chose this career because he knew that his participation in the slaughter would eventually help expose the meat industry for what it really is.
I am honoured to have met Mike last summer and beyond proud to call him my teammate.
Recently, both Mike and I were asked to contribute to a new project that fellow teammate Scott Shetler had created. Scott was writing a new book called “Plant-Based Performance: Know Your Own Strength” with not just some, but ALL sales going towards The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Forgotten Animals Rescue.
We, of course, were happy to jump on-board and share our stories! But let it be known that mine is nowhere near as riveting or captivating as Mike’s. Thankfully though, Shetler has allowed me to share Mike’s incredibly heart-warming AND gut-wrenching story with you today.
So without further ado, I bring you…
The Barn is Loaded
By Mike Wolf for Plant-Based Performance: Know Your Own Strength
I am a former undercover investigator, still work within the animal rights movement, and I am a vegan powerlifter.
Let me back up; I was not always this way. I started lifting weights in high school, and I quickly became addicted. It’s easy to get addicted to lifting when you see yourself getting bigger, and feel the strength growing inside of you. And then there’s the adrenaline rush.
Yep, my name is Mike and I am an adrenaline junkie.
So, I became addicted to lifting. If I was in the gym six days a week, that was a slow week for me. I also blindly bought into the theory that you have to eat meat in order to get big. So I did, and lots of it. A typical pregan (pre-vegan) diet for me was a dozen egg whites in the morning, two cans of tuna for lunch, and a whole rotisserie chicken for dinner. I think back now and shudder.
That all changed in 2005. My dog died, and my eyes were opened. “Curly” was like my brother; I had grown up with him. On the way home after he died, I stopped at a liquor store, stocked up, and spent the next week drinking morning, noon, and night. I was between jobs at the time, and there was nothing else I wanted to do but drink and cry. One day, a thought occurred to me. I wasn’t accomplishing anything—I wasn’t doing anything special for him by sitting there drinking. I wanted to do something to honor his life. Maybe something to do with animals, but what?
I was online a lot Googling stuff about pet loss, etc., and I came across information on how dogs are eaten in other countries. I had heard about that before, but I never really THOUGHT about it. So, I thought about it. A lot. “How barbaric,” I kept thinking. “How can they do that to cute and cuddly dogs? How could anyone look at a dog and think of dinner rather than belly rubs?! They must be evil.”
Then, I looked down at my food. In a heartbeat, my life would never be the same again. I hate to sound cliché, but that moment to me was just like when Neo took the pill and touched the mirror. Within a month I was vegetarian, a few months later I was working in the field for PETA, and shortly after that I was vegan.
So, I began working undercover to expose the cruelties that are done to animals.
I was going through a lot of change all at once. I lost my best friend, completely changed over my diet, and started working undercover—living on the road in crappy hotels, working jobs that pushed you to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally– long days, lack of sleep, working through injuries on the job (yes there were a lot of them), feelings of isolation, and trying to figure out what to eat.
Two things happened when I started working undercover: I stopped lifting, and ate really poorly. That first job lasted four months. It was six days a week, averaging 12+ hours on-site. Then, back to where I was staying to watch footage, write notes, answer any questions from the prior day, and try to get to sleep asap. My one day off per week consisted of food shopping, going to the laundromat, phone calls, and crashing on my air mattress (I was out of a hotel at this point). There was no time to lift, and even if there was, my body could not take it.
I was very uneducated regarding a vegan diet. All I knew was that I would not contribute to the suffering of animals. I bought into the stereotype that all protein is animal-based, and so I was anti-protein. For the four months I was on that first job, my diet mostly consisted of Subway veggie sandwiches. I would stop there every day after I left the job site, and get between 4 and 6 sandwiches for that night and the next day. On the extra long days, I was lucky to get there before they closed at 10 pm.
What do you get when you add up not lifting, working heavy manual labor, and eating very poorly? I lost a lot of weight. When I started at PETA I was a solid 215 lbs. In the middle of my second job, I had gotten down to about 160. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty shredded, but I missed my strength.
My second job was long term; I was there for about eight months. I actually had two days off at this place, so I joined the local YMCA, and started lifting again. I had also learned a lot more about what to eat and had a much more balanced diet. I started putting on weight again, and started to feel stronger.
From that point on, I found a way to lift while working most of my undercover jobs. I even lifted during my first hog farm investigation, which had a rotation of 12 days on and two days off. Basically, every other weekend off. They were long days, starting very early in the morning hours. I joined a local gym, and made it there several times a week after work was done at the hog farm and before my notes/footage review. I felt like a tank.
For me, lifting was my outlet and my stress relief—it helped me through. Lifting was a crutch in my time of need. It was a time when I could close my eyes, shut out what happened earlier in the day, and feel connected to something that I had done for so many years. So many things come and go in life, but to me, lifting is always there; it can connect my past to my present, and also to my future.
Lifting also did a great thing for me on these jobs. You see, I quickly put weight back on and had my strength back. This helped me play into people’s stereotypes. A large part of working undercover was fitting in—you don’t want to be an outcast or raise any red flags.
Unfortunately for many of my friends who are vegan, this meant that they had to eat meat while on the job. This is the ultimate “taking one for the team.” On these jobs, there are so many situations you are in where food is involved. Never eating meat may lead someone to think you are vegetarian, and that is the biggest red flag of all. Throughout all of my undercover work, I never once ate meat, and I am very proud of that. I attribute that strictly to my size. I was actually asked once or twice if I was vegetarian. My answer: “Do I LOOK like a vegetarian?” Yea, I guess I have always had a love/hate relationship with vegan stereotypes.
Over the past year or so I have become involved with powerlifting to help break those stereotypes of weak vegans. Talk about another rude awakening. I’ve been weightlifting for over 15 years. I thought I knew everything. I thought I was a bad ass. I thought, “piece of vegan cake.” Well, it turns out powerlifting is VERY different from weightlifting. I went to my first meet very naïve, and wow, did I learn a lot. My specialty is bench, so for most of my meets I entered bench only. I went to that first meet not even knowing about the pause. When you bench in a meet, you lower the weight to your chest, touch, and then wait. You have to hold the bar nice and steady, and then the judge gives you the “press” command. Some judges are quick with their commands, some are not. This obviously makes a HUGE difference in the amount of weight you press. This is pretty basic knowledge of power lifting, which shows how unprepared I was. But, this meet was an amazing learning experience. It also showed me the incredible camaraderie among powerlifters. Everybody was cheering everybody else on, even lifters they were competing with. It was a great feeling.
I went home and went back to the drawing board. I learned about power lifting, and by my second meet, I was much better prepared. But while talking with some of the lifters there, I learned something very important. I wasn’t benching correctly. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of reps that I have pressed a bar over the years, and it was all wrong. When I lowered the bar, I was lowering to about my nipple area—this was way too high on my chest.
I went to the gym and lifted a few times with someone who had some powerlifting experience, and he showed me how to improve my form. It seems pretty basic actually. He had me lie on the bench and lower my arms without the bar. I lowered to where I normally would, and my forearms were angled, pointing up towards my head. He had me rotate my arm at the elbow so that my forearms were perpendicular to the ground. That is where you lower the bar to. So, I used the bar, and then added weight. At first, it felt uncomfortable. I thought I was going to drop the bar on my midsection, but he guided me through it. After a couple weeks with the new form, it started to feel much more natural—and actually much better on my shoulders than the old form. I guess that no matter how long you are doing something, or how much you think you know about something, there is always more to learn.
If anybody out there still consumes meat, eggs, or dairy because you think that is the way to get big, please reach out to someone. Any vegan will be more than happy to help you with your diet. Think of me when you wonder if you can build mass on a vegan diet. As I said, I had gotten down to about 160 lbs. On nothing but a vegan diet, I currently weigh in at 240 lbs. I do have a bit of a powerlifter gut, but for the most part, that is all muscle mass. And I can press the hell outta some weight.
Check out “Plant-Based Performance: Know Your Own Strength” for Mike’s actual workouts
The reason that I got involved with powerlifting was to try to break the stereotypes of the weak vegan. It is not manly to eat meat, go hunting, or perform any other act which abuses animals. Bullying someone who is weaker is never manly.
People who abuse animals are no better than people who abuse children, and I don’t think there are too many people out there who think it is manly to commit child abuse. If a picture of a man flexing next to a cowering child who has a black eye and a bloody lip is not manly, then a picture of a man standing over the carcass of an animal they just killed is not manly.
So the thing that I would really like to emphasize for any non-vegans who are reading this is to please think of the animals. There is nothing I can say that will fully capture the terror and horror these animals go through from birth to death. Every single moment of their lives is filled with suffering. You can watch all of the undercover videos out there, but they all pale in comparison to the way it is inside these places.
The comparison I like to give involves sports. Picture your favorite sports team then picture yourself sitting on the couch in your living room watching a game by yourself. You yell at the TV, eat some food—it’s a fun time. But now picture yourself at that game. Anybody who has ever gone to a sports game will know that there is no comparison. The home crowd, the atmosphere, the electricity in the air. Well, it’s the same concept when you watch these videos, except that instead of being a much more positive experience to be there, it is a much more negative one.
These animals are raped, beaten, mutilated, separated from friends and family, confined to such small spaces that they cannot stand, turn around, or spread a wing. The horrors go on and on. And in the end, they are rewarded for making it through all that by being hung upside down and having their throats cut. The animal exploitation industries are by far the most barbaric and cruel to ever be created by human “civilization.” These animals are living, breathing, feeling, sentient beings, and they feel every ounce of pain and misery the same way a human would.
If we would not pull the testicles out of a human male child while he is fully conscious, screaming and writhing in agony, and without painkillers, then it should not be acceptable to do it to an animal. If a situation like in The Hills Have Eyes where women are kept chained up, raped, and forced to give birth only to have their babies taken away creeps you out, then why is it okay for animals to go through the exact same thing? If you would not want to eat the discarded egg from a human woman’s menstruation cycle, why would you want to eat that from an animal? If it is not okay to sexually touch our beloved dogs and cats, why is it okay to do that to farm animals? The list of questions goes on and on. Please make compassionate choices, and keep the animals in mind when you consider what to eat or wear, and what products to buy.
**Mike Wolf is currently working as the Investigations Manager for “Compassion Over Killing.” If you think you are up for the challenge of being an investigator yourself, please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.**
– Jacked on the Beanstalk