Johanna Jahnke, vegan rugby player and cyclist
Johanna has made an impact in two major sports since turning vegan. Following a successful period in which she captained her Club team FC St. Pauli twice, she has established herself as a world class fixedgear cyclist.
While playing rugby she helped her club FC St Pauli Hamburg to 10 National Championships. She represented Germany internationally, making her first appearance aged 18 in 2001. Johanna played in the 2002 World Cup, which she lists as a career highlight, and in several European Championships and European Cups. Johanna started her rugby career playing no 8 and moved on to play 1st or 2nd center later.
In 2004 she won the Swedish Championship with Stockholm Exiles and she’s also played for United Kawakawa in New Zealand during 1999-2000 and Warringah Rats in Australia in 2010. Johanna also played rugby Sevens internationally.
In 2005 she became pregnant and stopped playing rugby internationally, retiring with 24 appearances, although she continued playing at club level.
Johanna has also taken cycling to a high level, competing both with a team and individually at the highest levels since starting to race in 2014.
Her first year saw her record numerous top ten finishes including outright wins at Last Woman Standing Hamburg, 200m Sprint Berlin and the 200k Took My Lady Away which took her from Rotterdam to Antwerpen and back again.
In 2015 the success continued with a 2nd at Waterkant Crit Hamburg and 3rd in Cyclassics 100k Hamburg. Johanna took first at Last Woman Standing and at Bergfest.
Her team won the Rad Race series and she also competed internationally taking 13th in London, 10th in Barcelona, 13th in Brooklyn and 18th in Milano. These were part of the Red Hook Crit where the team took 8th.
2016 saw her continue her success with 3rd in the last Wo/Man Standing Hamburg and 1st in the Rad Race Crit Cologne. Johanna took 2nd at Waterkant Krit Hamburg, 1st at MCK and 2nd overall at Flintbek Cup Road Criterium Kiel.
Her team ‘Why Be Normal?’ entered the RedHook Crit Team Championship and took the overall win. Johanna had an overall ranking of 13th after taking 6th in Brooklyn, 13th in London and 12th in Barcelona.
With so many highlights, it was difficult to single out a high point in Johanna’s career.
“Playing Rugby for Germany and attending the World Cup is something I would not have wanted to miss, and winning 10 German Championships with my Rugby team. Recently I won the Red Hook Crit World Team Championship with my fixedgear Team Why Be Normal? and that is a very great achievement for me. To have made it into a team along with 5 other very strong women and riding a successful series is really something I'm very proud of.”
Johanna was 33 when added to this site (in 2016), and vegan for nearly half of that, having turned vegan at age 17.
“I suddenly made the connection between the food I eat and the suffering that is involved producing it. I became a vegetarian when I was 12 and a vegan when I was 17. After I got all the information about how animal products are produced, for me there was no other option than turning vegan. So when I was 17 there were a lot of changes in my life. I'd just returned from a student exchange to New Zealand, got selected for the German National team and turned vegan.“
As a travelling athlete there has been support and more difficult times.
“I'm completely vegan. When I'm travelling, I try to visit vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants or prepare my own food.
“It's become much easier nowadays and the fixedgear/cycling community is very vegan friendly. A lot of my friends there are actually vegan too.”
This had been a lot more positive than her experience as a rugby player.
“I still remember the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2002 where they only offered tapas after the matches and my meal consisted of chips on white bread. During the European Cup in Italy though, my teammates where jealous - because instead of meat I got double the amount of pasta.
“Still, with all the knowledge I have now, I'm happy that most of the times when I compete I have the opportunity to prepare my own food or even get a vegan meal at the venue. Especially the Red Hook Crit organizers are very good at making sure there are vegan options.”
What does she eat?
Fuel is important to Johanna as she trains hard all year round.
“Training is mostly cycling and technical training. During winter I also add strength and core training and I also plan to visit my old Rugby team and join their practise once a week. I like to have some diversity and also miss my Rugby a little.
“I'm not a professional athlete, have two children who I like to take care of the best I can and also study Psychology at university. This means my training has to be flexible and fit into my life.”
This means it helps to eat well.
“I eat mostly unprocessed food, a lot of vegetables, grains like rice, lentils, fresh fruit and veggies. I don't actually spend much time in the kitchen, but I do make sure that I buy organic and if possible locally produced.”
With such a lot of achievements to her name, Johanna was not able to recall coaches being concerned that she had decided to be vegan.
“Most of the times when someone approaches me, it's advice I'm asked for.”
With so much achieved, Johanna has also taken a lot of enjoyment for competition and wants to continue this.
“I would like to be a healthy athlete that gets good results, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my life for it. My plan for next year is to have fun at all the races, bring home results I'm happy with, find nice people to ride with and try some new tactics.
“So it's going to be bikeracing in 2017, which team it will be, I haven't confirmed yet. And I would like to find more ways to promote veganism and help other athletes to do well. I strongly believe that happy athletes go on to be successful athletes.”