Michael Griesmeier is a bodybuilder who beat a world record when he climbed stairs for six hours straight with 30 kilos on his back. What’s more, he’s vegan. Griesmeier is doing away with the stereotype of a frail, lettuce-munching hippy and wants to show us that we all have the potential to do unimaginable things, while living an ethical lifestyle. We talked to him to find out how.

A couple of years ago, I watched a film by French director Yann Arthis-Bertrand, called ‘Home’. The film was full of beautiful aerial shots of our earth, accompanied by an eye-opening commentary. There was no blood, no screaming children – but all of a sudden I became aware of how precious our planet is, and how it is being ravaged by a few industrial nations.

That’s when I made the decision to become vegan. I didn’t decide to change my diet because I was ill, but because I no longer wanted to play a part in factory farming and uncontrolled consumerism. When I go to the supermarket, the shelves are full of vast amounts of meat. It never seems to run out, no matter when you go. I asked myself how that could be sustained, and where it all comes from. It soon became clear to me – and so I decided to opt out.

A vegan bodybuilder may sound like an unlikely combination, but I wanted to show people that any normal person is capable of developing enormous physical and spiritual power. I don’t have to be a Yogi, a Buddhist, or a monk. I work for the police. But I think ethically and live a vegan life. There’s so much that an honourable lifestyle can help you to achieve, if you just believe in yourself. Yet we’re taught to be afraid from early childhood. Our parents tell us not to climb that tree, or we’ll fall and break our legs. This conditions us to be afraid of doing we want to do: climbing the tree, taking in the view and feeling that sense of achievement. That’s a real shame. I once broke a world record climbing stairs for six hours with a 30-kilo rucksack. People said that I couldn’t do it. They said that my knees would break and I’d fall and break my neck. But my inner child has always told me that it was possible. I feel like we’re capable of anything, we just have to trust our gut feeling. Maybe you thought about running a marathon, but decided you couldn’t do it. Just go for it! Sign up!

We have two people inside of us: a curious spirit who is guided by their instincts, and a grownup. The grownup is made up of the past, and it’s the past that dictates most of our lives. We have to learn to listen to our inner child, our soul, and our true feelings. It has nothing to do with spirituality or magic.

I decided to break a world record because I wanted to do something incredible that would attract people’s attention. I knew in my heart that I could do it. When I tried on the heavy rucksack in an outdoors shop, my knees nearly gave out from under me. But I pushed on. I trained on the stairs for an hour each time – never more. I mostly concentrated on training my spirit. I already trusted my body. It has good muscles and joints. My heart is fit. Why shouldn’t I be able to carry on for six hours? Of course it was painful, but that’s normal; I could live with it. It’s nothing compared to the suffering humans and animals experience every day. That was my motivation. I thought of the pigs on the conveyor belt, the blood, the screams and the boiling water. Then I asked myself if I wanted to give up because of a little pain. I didn’t have the right. In the end I managed to show people that vegans could do incredible things.

People don’t want to believe that you can be vegan and be in as good a shape as I am. They think I should be weak from lack of milk and meat. They want to find an explanation, so they’re hoping I’ll say that I’ve only been vegan for a day. But when I say it’s been two years, it gives them pause for thought. The truth is that I get a lot of energy from my diet. Meat, animal protein, milk and cheese put a large toll on your body, because it takes so much energy to digest. Plants give you power and vitality. Your head functions properly and you don’t get as tired. It also increases your level of performance – and those are only the physical aspects. People can also see that I’m not an extreme person. I don’t live in a hut in the woods. I enjoy the conveniences of modern life. I put on the heating and I take baths – but I don’t take these things for granted. I use them sparingly and I give a little back. Most people hardly think anything of it. They live how they’re told to live and do what everyone else does, instead of thinking for themselves. Modern humans are a long way from nature.

I once read an interview with a social scientist who said that one day, eating meat will be as much of a luxury as smoking is today. Sure there are lot of smokers, but it’s not really that accepted. It’s not seen as cool anymore; it’s seen as an addiction. That’s what’s happening with veganism. Eating meat is no longer necessary. When I was ten, we only had meat on Sundays. That wasn’t so long ago. It would be okay if everyone just had their steak once a week, but what we’re doing now is brutal. That’s why I climb the tree no matter who is telling me not to, because I want to achieve the unthinkable. I want to show the world what vegans can do, and I want to do what’s right.

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