Think that vegans don’t get the protein needed to really compete? Think again. Justin Torrellas, a raw vegan athlete, spent the past year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, training for the 2016 Olympics in the modern pentathlon. We caught up with the former bassoonist to talk about children’s books, positivity, and the value of short shorts.

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Q.
What’s one thing every man should know?
A.
Don’t be afraid to show a little leg when you’re running. Short shorts are super comfortable.

Q.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A.
I could think of so many physical things, but that’s not the best answer. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done is walk my own path. Ignore society’s pressure. Make the decisions that I think are right for me.

The Modern Pentathlon

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The first documented pentathlon, which took place in 708 B.C., consisted of the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw, a foot race and a wrestling competition. At the time, it was one of the most revered events, inspiring Aristotle to comment, “A body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength…this is why the athletes in the pentathlon are the most beautiful.”

But in 1912, the head of the Olympic Committee, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, decided to reinvent the sport as the modern pentathlon. He based the new event on the skills requisite for a 19th century soldier fighting behind enemy lines: épée fencing (each opponent faces each other once), pistol shooting, freestyle swimming, horseback show jumping and a cross-country running. Today, soldiers might need a different set of skills, but the events remain the same.

Q.
What are you working on right now?
A.
I’m trying to get my website up (justintorrellas.com) and get back to a basic level of fitness. Training is a perpetual project. The 2016 Olympics are closer than they seem.

Q.
Name one thing you can’t live without.
A.
Laughter. I don’t like being around negative people.

Q:
Who or what influences you?
A:
People inspire me, but don’t influence me. I would say that the biggest influence on my life is a strong desire to experience new things and challenge myself. Even if I’m doing something great, I always want to see what’s around the corner. I always want to experience a deeper emotional or physical struggle. In my life, I think I’ve learned the most from persistent changes and challenges.

Q.
What are you reading right now?
A.
I read children’s books to my daughter. Right now we’re on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? In terms of my own books, I’ll go through spurts. Sometimes I’ll read three books in as many days, and then I won’t read something for a year. I have a hard time taking 400 pages of information from one person.

Q.
Name one thing no one knows about you.
A.
I’m totally germaphobic. Sometimes I’ll wait until someone enters a public restroom first so I don’t have to touch the door. Also, I’ve never had a beer, and I’ve never taken an over-the-counter drug.

Q.
It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A.
Orange juice and a pile of cherimoyas. They’re really fucking good. Mark Twain said it was the best fruit he’s ever had.

Orange juice and a pile of cherimoyas. They’re really fucking good.

Q.
If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A.
I’d tell myself not to give a shit. Do what you think is right and screw what everyone’s told you.

Q.
How do you want to be remembered?
A.
In a good light, I think. I don’t care if I’m recognized for things I’ve done, but I would like to know that I was a positive influence, whether it’s to half a person or everyone. To me, recognition is less important than the action.

Q.
What do you think about doping?
A.
I’d never do it. There’s no possible way I could have a mistake. I don’t even drink protein powder. If I ever had a false positive, I’d be so pissed. Unless someone injected my bananas…

Q.
How you did become an Olympic hopeful?
A.
Even before high school, I knew I wanted to study music. Music, specifically bassoon, was something I loved and was naturally good at. Athletics were something I loved and wanted to be good at, but wasn’t. In the stuff I idealized — cycling, running, swimming — I was terrible. But music taught me to do things well. It taught me how to approach things and how much to demand of myself. I got to a point where I realized that if I didn’t quit, I might not do anything else substantial. Ultimately, my love for it was what prompted me to leave it. If I had a successful career, I would have always wondered what else I could have done. I quit in 2005 or 2006. I played gigs here and there up until 2009 or 2010, but I don’t think I’ve been paid to play for two or three years now.

Q.
How has a fruit-based diet played into your training?
A.
It put air in my tires. Physically, mentally and emotionally, the process of making fruit a primary source of fuel opened up my world. It’s not a panacea or a spiritual thing, but I literally can’t think of any negatives. It’s so awesome that I don’t even know what to say about it. The first few months especially were like a rocketship ride. I would give almost anything to feel like that again.

Q.
I have to ask the obvious question: where do you get your protein?
A.
I’ve been asked this thousands of times. What makes you think that fruit and vegetables don’t have the protein that you need? It does. The idea that it doesn’t is a misconception. When it comes to nutrition, society is wrong.