Growing Up Shorkey
Well it’s me again! Samantha “Jacked on the Beanstalk” Shorkey as they call me here on Vegan Street. And by “they”… I mean me.
Like every other vegan fitness freak, I am a personal trainer and I blog. My biggest claim to vegan fame, however, was not only winning my first-ever fitness competition in 2013 against all meat eaters in an untested show but one year later, I killed it yet again—this time as the first-ever vegan WNBF bikini pro.
As much as I love being a self-proclaimed vegan health & fitness guru, I feel like I’m always talking about my diet and exercise regimens. And well, as useful as all of that information may be, today, I’d like to take you on a trip down memory lane instead—Shorkey style. Besides, you can always buy my eBook if you really want to know about my diet 😉
At the present time, I reside in the heart of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia but unbeknownst to most, I actually grew up in a log house quite literally in the middle of the forest.
So gather ‘round vegan friends and let me warm your cholesterol-free hearts with some of my favourite childhood memories and tell you all about the woman who inspired me to become the animal loving fitness freak I am today. My very own mother: Nora Shorkey.
Despite growing up in a family of smart-assed loud-mouths, we Shorkeys are tight. I’m the youngest of four and to this day, my parents are still happily married after 42 years.
My dad (Rick) is a chartered accountant, very much an A-type, control-freak “business guy” who fell in love with my mom: a sensitive “farm girl” water colour artist and quite literally, the animal whisperer of the Ottawa Valley where they live.
You know that scene from ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ when he enters his apartment and says “come to me my animal friends”? Then a billion birds and beasts suddenly appear and flock to him? Well, that’s my mom.
Ever since I can remember, our houses have been home to countless strays and rescued animals. If I were to share the story of every single cat we’ve ever taken in, this article would end up a novel. And besides, most share a similar tale anyway. We’d feed them and let them live in the insulated, lighted AND heated, two-story “cat condo” my mom built until winter hit. Then we’d sneak them inside the house on really cold nights whilst my dad would irately say over and over “what’s that cat doing in here?” and “Nora, that cat is not living here.” But sure enough, within a month, they would ALL be living here.
My mom grew up on a typical farm; one of four daughters. I’m going to sound incredibly Canadian right now but my grandpa also had quite the maple syrup operation. And yes, I know how to make a mean batch of maple candy. Unfortunately my grandpa never had a son to help with the farm duties. So my mom took on that role and was chopping firewood and building fences before she could even speak.
Constructing some kind of top-notch contraption for animals has just always been her “thing.” Like the giant 12’ x 12’ wire cage she made (and furnished) for the orphaned baby squirrels we raised one year.
Man, those black squirrels had it real good. When they weren’t zipping around in their pimp cage, they were just like real babies, quietly and contently nursing formula that we fed them out of syringes.
We would hold each baby squirrel ever so gently in one hand and they’d wrap their tiny, little paws around the syringe and as they fed, I remember watching their eyes close and feeling their little hearts beating against my hand.
Being the youngest child, I pretty much learned everything I know from my older siblings and copied especially whatever my older “cool” sister Sarah did. When she was 14, she told me she wasn’t going to eat animals anymore. So I said I wasn’t going to either. I was only eight years old and my mom knew nothing about a vegetarian diet. But being the huge animal lover that she was, she respected our decision and said she’d try her best to accommodate.
I still smile when I think back to those days and how uneducated we were on proper plant-based nutrition. My mom would just make a typical “country style” meal: meat, potatoes and a vegetable. And I’d just eat the potato and the vegetable. And when I discovered Yves veggie dogs, man oh man, did I ever think that I had hit the jackpot.
Surprisingly enough, my mom never tried to dissuade us from being vegetarian. I think because deep down, she knew it was her own compassion and love for animals that influenced this dietary choice. And although she continually referred to us as the “pain in the ass vegetarians,” she was proud of us for standing up for what we believed in.
My mom was sort of the first animal rights activist I ever witnessed too.
I remember one time my brother and I were playing outside with our neighbours and their cousins. They told us they had trapped some frogs and asked if we wanted to see them. I remember going over to the side of their house and sure enough, trapped inside a deep window well were about 10 frogs. My brother and I knew what they were doing was wrong especially when one of the kids started poking them with a stick. Big mistake. We immediately ran home to tell Mom. Without any hesitation, she went next door armed with an old terrarium, scolded the crap out of the neighbours and basically stole their frogs.
She then loaded all four of us into her faux-wood paneled station wagon (frogs included) and we peeled out of the driveway, headed to a nearby forest for their release. The best part was backing out of the driveway with all these kids banging on the car, chanting “give us our frogs back!”
In 1992, my parents moved us from our little suburban neighbourhood into “the bush” near my grandparents’ farm. They built the log home of their dreams on 12 acres of forest my mom had inherited from my grandpa. I was excited to be surrounded by nature but part of me was terrified to live in “the sticks”— mainly because we wouldn’t have cable TV or shopping malls (let alone a McDonalds to order my Big Macs without the meat from.)
Life in the country was different alright. The closest village housed a mere 40 people and a general store. My dad would drive into Ottawa every day for work and my mom kept busy at home— digging up creek beds, building sheds, planting gardens and of course, tending to any and ALL surrounding wildlife.
Where do I even begin? The first thing that comes to mind is “turtle rescues” and my mom’s “turtle gloves” which she keeps in her car for emergency roadside rescues.
This one time in particular we were driving into Ottawa and noticed traffic slowing ahead and a car pulled off on the shoulder of the road. A woman had clearly asked her male passenger to pull over and help a massive, old snapper get across the highway. The man looked scared and uncomfortable, trying to keep his distance from the turtle’s powerful, snapping jaws by poking it with a stick but the turtle kept turning around at him.
My mom fast ordered my dad to pull over and park the car while she put on her “turtle gloves.” Without any hesitation, she grabbed the giant snapper slightly behind center on either side of its shell and marched it quickly across the road. The couple just stood there dumbfounded and in awe. The best part was pulling away and my dad yelling out the window “don’t worry, this woman is a professional.”
“Professional” isn’t much of a stretch either with the amount of time my mom dedicates to protecting wildlife. Just posting “no hunting” signs every five feet on our property is practically a full-time job for her. And don’t even get me started on how many hours she’ll spend feeding the deer and shoveling “walking paths” for them in the winter.
I remember a time when there were five deer in my parents’ backyard. Now, it’s somewhere between 30 and 50. And yes, she has names for most of them. They’re beyond spoiled and will literally stare into our house, annoyed if their feeding troughs are empty.
All jokes aside, hunting season is actually a very depressing and stressful time for my mom. It’s also a time she’s been known to go a little crazy and do things like keep hunting dogs in our garage until the three weeks are over but drive their tracking device collars out into the bush, miles away from our property.
She even let me skip school one year because I wanted to protest. I spent a whole week making picket signs that said “hunting is murder” and “the only thing a deer should be shot with is a camera.”
I packed a thermos full of hot cocoa, wore Christmas reindeer antlers and stood post at a busy four way intersection, waving my signs proudly with each sight of a truck or men dressed in orange hunting gear. It’s still one of my proudest memories. I was young and freezing my little ass off. But I stood up for what I believed in. And I’ll never forget how good that felt.
Then there’s the raccoons. It just wouldn’t be dinner at the Shorkey house without scraping your leftovers onto the “raccoon plate.”
They say raccoons can be vicious but I’ve yet to witness this. Still, all of my friends in high school were terrified to leave my house after dark, thinking they would contract rabies from the obese raccoon family clawing at the patio door all night long.
I’m actually glad my mom has all these animals to keep her busy now that her children have moved out. And in fact, since we’ve “flown the nest,” there hasn’t been enough “raccoon plate” food supply to meet their ever-growing population so get this—my mom is now making them peanut butter sandwiches too. Good thing my dad makes decent money because those fat, little bastards go through half a loaf every night. Always “whole wheat” of course.
Perhaps some of you are thinking my mom is crazy. And after the time she made me leave a donut shop in the pouring rain to go chase a skunk in a muddy field who had duct tape stuck to its tail, I’ll even agree with that assessment.
But she’s my hero. My rock. And “my biggest fan” as she always tells me.
Last May, I had a photo shoot booked in Los Angeles and I asked my mom to come with me for our first-ever mother/daughter trip. I was just three weeks out from competing in the BC Provincial Championships and I knew I should’ve been dieting hard. But after the shoot, listening to my mom say how proud I made her, I had an epiphany.
Here I was in one of the most vegan-friendly cities on Earth for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the one person who’s supported me more than anyone. I knew I should’ve been eating the food I had brought with me. But I realized that no competition or first place trophy could ever trump the fun we were going to have after a few cocktails, greasy vegan diner food and a day at the wax museum.
I made a choice that day to instead commit carbicide with my 66 year-old mother and laugh our way down Hollywood Blvd. And looking back, even though I didn’t place well at that competition, I wouldn’t change it for the world. And as luck would have it, the very next competition, I won my pro card.
I want to end this story by hopefully communicating two important messages that I’ve learned myself.
One: it’s so crucial that we teach our children to love and respect all animals from an early age. Because the truth is, after we’re gone (even with us living well past our meat-eating counterparts) they really are our only hope for a better tomorrow in a cruelty-free world.
And two: it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds that we sometimes miss out on the people and things that matter the most. And yes, time and dedication are absolutely necessary when striving to accomplish any goal. But if there’s anything I’ve learned since getting into the competition game, it’s that winning isn’t everything and family should always come first.
– Samantha Shorkey
* Originally written for Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine, December 2014 Issue *