Olympic medalist inspires with her plant-based milk advocacy
Dotsie Bausch may have retired from her professional cycling career in which she won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, took eight U.S. championships, claimed two Pan American gold medals and set a world record. But she hasn’t stopped inspiring.
Named by VegNews in 2019 as one of the top 20 most influential vegans in the world, Bausch uses her degree in plant-based nutrition to advocate on behalf of humans, planet earth and animals.
In early 2018, Bausch founded the nonprofit Switch4Good with a television commercial featuring six Olympians from four different countries to promote that cow’s milk is not part of a high-performance diet. More recently Bausch appeared the film The Game Changers.
Long before embodying radiant health and becoming an influential game changer, Bausch struggled for years with severe eating disorders and a recreational drug habit, that combined, led to a suicide attempt. It was during her recovery that she discovered her gift and love for the bike.
Bausch speaks passionately around the world, spreading her message about the numerous benefits – humane, nutritional and environmental – of plant-based eating. Her popular TEDx Talk, “Olympic Level Compassion,” has received over 275,000 views and has been a catalyst of change for thousands of people.
In this interview, we talk about her cycling career, her transition away from cow’s milk and Switch4Good.
Question: First, walk me through your athletic career and what it was like to win a Silver Medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Answer: I started late. I didn't start cycling until I was 26 years old. I was in the very late stages of recovering from anorexia, and my therapist decided I was ready to find movement again, so she told me to pick something, and I picked up a bicycle. I quickly discovered a love for the bike and some natural talent for racing. I competed for 14 years in total, winning silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in track cycling. I stood on that podium as the oldest person in my discipline to medal at the Olympics, and I was just shy of my 40th birthday. We were the underdogs going into that race, and feeling that silver medal being slipped over my head felt nothing short of miraculous.
Question: Now you advocate strongly — and rightly – against cow's milk. When did you first start understanding the negative effects of cow's milk on humans, and how did that correlate to your athletic career?
Answer: About three years before the 2012 Olympic Games, I came across footage from a slaughterhouse. That spiraled into doing my own research and what I found was so deplorable, I decided I no longer could contribute to the horrors of animal agriculture. I found out about the health benefits of ditching animal product — including dairy — by default. I was training to make the Olympic team, and suddenly, I felt incredible. I could recover faster and train harder than before. Over the years, I came to know other professional athletes who experienced similar results after giving up animal products. The nonprofit I founded, Switch4Good, focuses exclusively on ditching dairy because we found it to be the most inhibitive in terms of athletic performance and overall health.
Question: Let's say you are speaking with someone who hasn't accepted or learned of the science documenting the pitfalls of dairy. What is/are your go-to talking point(s) when it comes to research?
Answer: I'd tell them that the countries that drink the most milk have the highest rates of hip fracture. I'd tell them that there's no such thing as "hormone-free" milk, because milk comes from a pregnant cow and her raging pregnancy hormones end up in her milk. I'd tell them that 65 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant, which means the ability to digest milk isn't even normal. I'd tell them that dairy is a highly inflammatory food that could not only slow your workout recovery today, but potentially lead to chronic disease later in life. And finally, I'd tell them that cheese is aged breast milk, because sometimes we can't sugar coat things (Switch4Good also has a bumper sticker with this saying, for anyone interested!).
Question: What was it that lit a fire in you to launch Switch4Good? You could have easily started a campaign or a single protest and called it a day. What fuels you to keep this initiative going strong?
Answer: Ever since I went vegan, I wanted to do more with it. After the Olympics, I was always looking for ways to spread the word and contribute to this movement. Switch4Good launched because I knew I could do something powerful with this organization. As proud as I am of our 2018 national commercial that aired on NBC, no one is going to remember that now. We need to keep driving the message and reaching out to help others through every possible avenue—policy change, grassroots, efforts, mouthwatering recipes, etc. What fuels me to keep going is knowing that there are plenty of people still out there who don't know dairy is causing them pain. What fuels me is the Got Milk? campaign that just relaunched. What fuels me is the desire to spread the truth.
Question: What do you recommend for people considering the switch — go all in or start slowly like a Meatless Mondays — and why?
Answer: For most people, I recommend taking it slow. Most of us have gone our entire lives consuming dairy, and it can seem daunting to give it all up (even though it's actually easy once you do). For most, taking baby steps has more staying power. However, I think you have to know yourself. If you're a large action kind of person, go ahead and ditch dairy today. Also, for those who think they may be lactose intolerant, I would also suggest giving it all up. If you're lactose intolerant or even sensitive to dairy, you won't see any benefits if you just consume less of it.
Question: The recipes on your website look absolutely amazing. Pick out a few favorites of yours to highlight. And tell me why they rise to the top.
Answer: Thanks, they are! I'm obsessed with our GoodBowls series. We had a professional recipe developer create them for us, and they are just exploding with nutrition. They're also crazy delicious. It's hard to choose but the Mediterranean GoodBowl and West African GoodBowl are my favorites of the moment.
Question: What will success look like for Switch4Good?
Answer: We see success every day from the comments and emails Switch4Good receives from people who have ditched dairy. Success is any step forward in the dairy-free direction, and that can be monumental — such as partnering with the Los Angeles Clippers to educate pro players about dairy-free fuel — or it can be a daily victory like persuading one person to hold the cheese on their burrito that day.
Question: Anything else you'd like to mention that we have not covered?
Answer: Switch4Good recently released an unprecedented scientific report, Dairy Does a Body Bad: A Scientific Report on Cow's Milk, Health, and Athletic Performance that I encourage everyone to read and share. It uses science to combat the notion that milk is a performance food, and it's authored by a number of distinguished doctors, dietitians, and other medical experts. Send it to your college alumn, your kid's high school coach, or anyone who needs to see the science to be convinced that dairy does a body bad.
Name: Dotsie Bausch
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
Number of years as an athlete: 14 professional.
What your average week as an athlete is now: I try to stay active every day and work out most days. Weekends it can be a mountain bike ride, weekdays a strength session, hot yoga, or HIIT work.
Point of pride: Sticking to my new vegan diet when everyone told me it could jeopardize my chances of making the Olympic team.
Favorite athletic event: Cycling!
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: I think lentils are the ultimate food! They fuel and they're packed with nutrients to help you recover. Where can other athletes connect or follow you:
Instagram: @veganolympian and @switch4good