Madi and Griff Whalen, Vegan Athletes, on Love and Taking a Chance
You may not be able to relate to these two amazing athletes in the best human shape of their lives. But perhaps you can relate to a good old-fashioned love story. So... Just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a story about love and knowing when to take a chance.
Madi Serpico Whalen is a triathlete, a runner, a yoga instructor and a model, active on social media. You may know of her as a competitive triathlete, or because she is married to Griff Whalen, the former Miami Dolphin and Oakland Raider, who was featured in "The Game Changers," a documentary that profiled vegan athletes. Their story is inspiring to anyone who wants to get their significant other to take the vegan journey with them.
Madi: "We were so lucky to find each other. We were both vegan at the time. I had been plant-based or vegan a few more years than Griff. We met through Brendan Brazier on Twitter, actually. Brendan reposted some blog post of mine about nutrition, and Griff was following Brendan, so he saw it and he liked it and commented.
"I could see from his Twitter that he was in Miami and with the Dolphins and I thought nothing was probably ever going to come out of it. But I thought this is fun to have someone to talk about being vegan with. I was living in LA with my friend (our mutual friend Jim actually) three years ago. I was going back and forth between Canada and LA, and Griff reached out to me and said, I'll be in LA and would you want to have lunch -- I was pretty busy and I said I have a big race coming up but I can recommend some restaurants. And I said here's my cell and you can get in touch. He texted me when he got in ... and he said, I was thinking of going to this place for dinner, is it any good? And I didn't realize he was kind of asking me to go with him. But I didn't know that. I thought he was asking for places to go eat.
"So the next day he said I'm sorry to bug you but would you want to meet at Café Gratitude in Venice? So I said yes, but I have to go train afterward. So we met and ended up talking for a couple of hours and I never did go train that day. It was love at first sight. And I was thinking about how would I make this work. Flying to Miami? I had a full race season planned! And I said I don't know about this whole long-distance thing. He left the next day.
"We kept talking. And he said if you'd be open to coming to Miami, come watch a game. I needed another reason than to go -- not just for a boy. I didn't know him that well, but the feeling was amazing. But you just never know a person. My friend Jim Garfield sent me some info about a bike company in Fort Lauderdale and they offered to fly me down there to test some of their bikes out. So I went down there and had a return ticket for Monday, and I don't know how to explain it, but I was just like ... I can't leave this person, like ever.
"So I ended up staying for two weeks. And I booked a return flight to LA, and he asked me: Do you really need to go? And I thought: Not really. So I texted my mom and said I can't be apart from Griff. And my Mom said, "Follow your heart." So I basically went for the weekend and ended up staying.
"At the same time, he adopted a puppy and that was part of it too. I wanted to stay and make this our family. Around that time, they were filming The Game Changers, and I got to go see some of that ... This was back in 2017. We got married the next year, in June of 2019.
"During that time Griff got traded to the Chargers, so we moved to California. So we went from not even dating to living with each other and I ended up adopting the puppy that was the sister of his puppy. And so I ended up going all in. Neither one of us is like that. So we just went all in. We had been in complicated relationships and when you know, you know.
"I was still trying to race at the time, but now I'm kind of thinking about doing some later season racing. We've been traveling around. He played with the Ravens for a little bit, then New England for a couple of weeks, then with the Raiders in Oakland and we had a house in LA and I would drive up every weekend and then he hurt his toe really badly, and we weren't set on living in LA forever, so we just moved to Austin.
"We're thinking about starting a family soon. but before that, I want to do some modeling. I signed with the Brown agency. Mostly done fitness in the past so now I would love to do more fashion work. Austin is great. There's a lot of commercial work happening here, and we're right in the middle of NY and LA so it's easy to fly back and forth. I'm excited to try something new and staying active. And I'll be doing the LA Tri in May -- they wanted me to do that one again.
Why did you go vegan: Like eight years ago, living in Canada my whole family did it together so it was really easy. We saw Cowspiracy and after that, my younger brother turned to me and said I don't want to eat anything with a mommy or a daddy anymore, and he was like 7 at the time, and it made perfect sense. So we all went vegan right then and there. And my mom was like, I don't care what you eat out of the house, but in the house, we're going to eat like this. She loves to cook and so do I and we love to cook together... We share recipes so that was a huge thing for us. Griff cooks but not as much."
Eating Vegan is the Best Decision We Ever Made
"I went vegan and it was the best decision I ever made. When I met Griff he was also eating plant-based. He had started a few years before I met him. As athletes, we both wanted optimal performance, so we tried plant-based diets and it worked for us. Griff has so much knowledge and has done a ton of research and knows quite a bit about nutrition and what works for him.
"We'll share a snack or smoothie... for a pre-workout meal or snack or replenishment after working out. But Griff is constantly hungry. For breakfast, we'll eat oatmeal and chia.
"Our favorite LA date night is to go to Cafe Gratitude since we had our first date there, our non-date, which I didn't know was a date. And then we had our wedding reception there too.
"My favorite dish at Café Gratitude -- they call it the whole bowl. And they have this other bowl, I love which is the Humble Indian Curry bowl. It's the first thing we each ordered, so that's our favorite thing."
What is a typical day of plant-based eating?
Breakfast: I like chia pudding.... we make our own, or I'll have a banana.
Snack: Usually some fruit or something like kale chips. A smoothie right after we workout. At home usually. Sometimes workout together at the gym. Running but not always
Lunch: Usually a big salad, since we're big fans of that... Right now liking romaine lettuce.
Dinner: Anything in a bowl. We 're huge bowl people. We love rice bowls, Mexican bowls. Or tofu and tempeh bowls and good dressing, like a really rich with tahini or simple dressing
Dessert: We do splurge sometimes. During the season he's super strict ... and same with me. But offseason we look for the best vegan donuts or vegan ice cream. We actually had a vegan donut bar at our wedding, by The Donut Friend. We served two glazed donuts with whipped cream and strawberries. They were to die for. We love sharing, so we'll just share a thing of ice cream.
Some people who try to go plant-based find that they can't get enough to eat. Especially when they're traveling. That's a big thing for us and we do it a lot. and Griff needs to eat constantly, so I usually carry a thing of homemade snacks in my bag. I'll make trail mix and homemade kale chips and fruit snacks to take with us when we travel.
I always try to eat nutrient-dense foods that fill you up....since when you're training the way we do, you actually need calories.
What is the accomplishment you're most proud of?
"I would be a really bad swimmer when I first started triathlon. I was used to coming out of water last. Like with the breaststrokers. I really didn't think much of it in my first couple of races, and I thought I could catch them on the run. That was my strong suit, and I had won a bunch of cross country races in California.
"To get better, I joined a swim club with really young kids. And I joined a club with ten to 12-year-olds and they just schooled me every day and passed me in the lanes every day. I did that. My coach had said, "You have to do this if you want to get better." So then I worked really hard for that entire year and my running and biking took a back seat until I could get better at the swimming... I learned that you have to be able to hang (with the fast people who get out of the water first) so now I can swim with the best of them. The lesson for me is that when you work hard, it pays off.
"Sometimes it takes a long time and I am not a patient person, but dealing with adversity I know that if you want it bad enough, you can do it!"