A tried 'n' true vegan badass: Dominica Luethe on being vegan at a remote mine site
Allow me to introduce my amazing vegan superhero client, Dominica (a.k.a. Dom). We’ve been working together since July 2018. As I got to know more about her story over the past few months, I knew I had to feature her here as an absolute inspiration for being vegan and prioritizing strength training in an extremely challenging environment.
Given her work at a remote mine site and her demanding nursing schedule, she has to be in the gym by 3am. THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING, people! And she does this most days of the week. She’s also at the mercy of the camp kitchen’s food options, and has strict luggage weight restrictions for bringing her own items on the plane that gets her to the mine site.
Dom works extremely demanding 12-hour shifts, does not have the ability to cook (or pack) her own food, and trains at 3am every morning. And I haven’t even mentioned that she doesn’t have gym access, and trains in a tiny corner of a work trailer!
This is what dedication looks like. It’s what prioritizing looks like. It’s what eating according to your values – no matter the situation – looks like.
It’s not necessarily the living situation you’ll find yourself in, and I’m willing to bet you’ve got fewer obstacles keeping you from going (and staying) vegan, and strength training consistently, than Dom does. She’s showing us that these things are possible in situations most people would consider impossible, and she’s crushing her goals in the process.
Below, you’ll get Dom’s story in her own words.
Please tell our readers a little about yourself: What do you do for a living? What makes you tick?
I'm 36 years old living in Kamloops, British Columbia and I am a Remote Certified Registered Nurse (I have a broader scope of practise than a regular RN such as diagnosing and treating conditions with antibiotics, suturing, sexual health and women’s health exams, etc). I've been an RN for 14 years and I love the flexibility of travel nursing, which allows me to work in various locations over the province on different contracts (typically in rural emergency rooms, public health on reserves or remote nursing stations).
I typically do outpost nursing in small communities that have no physician, but currently I work in a silver mining camp by the Yukon border. I have two 12-year-old dogs (who are 80% plant-based) that I spend my days with when I am not working. Nature is my ultimate happy place, and you will be hard-pressed to find me indoors in my free time. Most people who know me will tell you that I cannot sit still and that I am always out doing something.
How long have you been vegan?
I have been vegan for 3.5 years (March 2015). I initially began my journey as a raw vegan, but this wasn't sustainable for me living in a ski resort town (only a basic and expensive store), and also working in remote locations around Northern BC. When I work outpost in remote locations I sometimes have to bring all of my food in, as there are no stores (depending on the community) and we are weight restricted.
How did you decide to make the transition to veganism?
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I kept saying to myself, “There has to be a better way!” I was on a high protein diet of hard boiled eggs, canned fish, yogurt, protein bars, etc. with very little carbohydrates. I bought into the “carbs make you fat” ideology. I was exhausted, hungry, miserable, and my I felt that my ability to think and make decisions was inhibited. I struggled to stay slim, but thought that this was my only option.
I remember the very moment I made the decision to go plant based. I was working a remote contract on a tiny island, when, after a busy weekend of call-ins, I was so physically drained that I couldn't even muster up the energy to get off the couch. I decided to do my own research and came across Freelee the Banana Girl (I don't encourage her specific diet), and the documentary “Forks Over Knives”. I went vegan that night, thinking that I couldn't possibly feel worse than I already was. Luckily I was near the end of my contract and I had lots of frozen veggies and fruit left, and the nurse before me had brought in rice and oats.
Needless to say that once I made the switch I felt like a different person – a happy and healthy one!
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your health and fitness journey? How’d you work on overcoming them?
I broke my ankle in 2 places and fibula (trimalleolar) in January of this year indoor rock climbing. It required surgery and almost 3 months before I could fully weight bear.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I still consider it a blessing.
It forced me to slow down and re-evaluate my health and my life in general. I learned how to meditate, to practice gratitude and to throw myself back into fitness.
I have always been athletic and active, so the thought of not moving my body for 3 months was my ultimate nightmare. I was swimming laps 8 days post surgery (I had plates and screws inserted). I am a determined individual, and by the end of 3 weeks I was up to 100 laps a day, 5 times a week. Joining me in my morning swims were folks that were also rehabbing themselves, and in way worse shape. My gratitude for realizing that there is always someone in a worse situation than you really humbled me.
I should add that I am also osteopenic (low bone density) that could eventually lead to osteoporosis. The fracture scared me into starting weight training to prevent further bone loss.
I no longer wanted to be a Cardio Queen (as I called myself). I discovered TRX in March, and the rest in history!
As a remote nurse, what's it like living in camp?
I thrive on routine, and for me camp life is an ideal situation. I work on a 2 week rotation, with 12 hour shifts and on-call after hours.
My alarm is set for 2:45am so that I can head to the gym and I am in my clinic around 5:00am.
Most of the workers head up to the mine and mill sites by 5:00am, so the camp empties out fairly early.
I work with an Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP), and my day varies depending on how many workers we assess, tasks I have to accomplish up on the mine and mill sites, in addition to transfers into the hospital and programs that I run. I am usually asleep by 7:00pm, as I am exhausted by the end of the day. The Remote Nurse Position at the camp is very busy!
What’s it like being vegan in camp? What are the challenges?
Food has been a small hurdle, but there are about 8 of us that are either vegan or vegetarian, so the cooks have been very accommodating. I have learned to ask for a lot of favours. The food options in general are minimal but I have made it work. There are fresh veggies put out in the morning for our packed lunches, so I fill up a plastic container full of broccoli. Oats are my breakfast staple and they only have sugary kids’ cereals. I have to ask for oats from the back kitchen every morning and just add hot water, which does makes me feel like a nuisance.
They put out melon in the morning for packed lunches, but in general the only fruit is apples and oranges, and occasionally bananas. It's difficult to bring in food with a 20-pound weight restriction on the charter flight. The cooks started making veggie sandwiches daily, which all go first by the way! One burger night they had veggie burgers as an option, and just about everyone in my line asked for one (non-vegans).
I find the workers here are very open to the idea of a plant-based diet when I am asked about it, which I did not expect coming from a group of burly men!
How do you ensure that you get the nutrition you need?
I know I am not getting enough protein, and I admit to being terrible about remembering to use protein powder. I focus on starch and veggies. I've always eaten the whole foods planted based way, so eating steamed veggies and rice is a staple. They do use a lot of oil on most things here, which I avoid when I am at home. I also give myself a monthly B12 injection.
As someone clearly dedicated to consistent strength training, you do what it takes. You have a small space available in camp with a TRX and yoga mat. Tell us a bit about your workouts.
I am at the gym by 3:00am. Believe it or not, the gym can sometimes be busy at this time of the morning (depending on which crews are in), and there is a regular group of us. I allow myself 2 days off in a 2 week rotation, as I need my daily exercise to keep mentally balanced also. I try for double gym duty 5 days a week, where I do spinning for 30 minutes in the afternoon. I have never been a fan of weight machines or free weights, but have enjoyed functional exercise.
When I began TRX, it was awkward and I felt ridiculous, but now I am an addict. I couldn't do a push up when I started and now I can do lots!
I do a rotation of arms, legs and abs for about 40-minute sessions, following Coach K's programs.
My space is small, but that's the beauty of TRX. It is a gym that can go anywhere - I've used it around a tree, in hotels and in soccer fields.
I asked a local to bring in a yoga mat for me because it was too big for the plane we travel in on. I have always been driven though, so it is a mindset. Make exercise part of your normal day and just move your body.
What advice do you have for our readers who are just starting out with strength training?
I wish I had started strength training in my teens. Functional exercises give you the overall strength and your core is worked without you even realizing. Stick with it, as you will see results if you put the work in.
What tips do you have for our readers who are vegan-curious, or vegan newbies?
Educate yourself and make your own decisions on how to eat. Watch every documentary and read any piece of reliable literature that would help you learn about being plant based. Find like-minded people - I joined a plant based meet-up group in Kamloops, which is where I discovered Coach K, who presented a Skype session with our group. It will keep you motivated. I also went to Silver Hills Spa (they own the bread company) for a week, a plant based retreat in Lumby, BC, which taught me all about vegan cooking and the health benefits of this lifestyle. I met some amazing people as an added bonus! I highly recommend Silver Hills as it got me excited about being plant based.
Women are constantly bombarded by BS media messages – and societal expectations – about our bodies. How has your own body image evolved over the years?
Like most women, I have always focused on being thin and I went to the extremes to ensure I didn't gain weight. My lowest weight was almost 90 lbs a few years ago when I worked on Air Ambulance in Northern Manitoba and justified starving myself because "I have no time to eat in between calls." I am 5’6”. My low body fat caused my menses to stop for years, which has contributed to my osteopenia, as you require estrogen to protect your bones. I was obsessed with the number on the scale.
My injury changed my perspective on my unhealthy body image, and was the wake-up call I desperately needed. I wanted to gain muscles and have a strong body to carry me through life. Now when I step on the scale (rarely), I get sad when I haven't gained weight!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I always tell my patients to just "move your body." Simple advice, but it is true. The more you do, the more you will want to do.
I will never go back to eating a SAD [Standard American Diet]. I even transitioned my dogs 3 years ago to a predominantly plant based diet as they had so many health issues (which have disappeared), and you would never know they are both 12! I was working up in the Chilcotin on a contract 2 weeks ago and my dog that was with my boyfriend and I got at least 4 hours of hiking in a day, with no sign of slowing down. If it works for dogs, then how can it not work for people?
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