Massimo Leopardi is known as someone who has worked hard to promote veganism in Italy through education – and by example as an internationally competitive athlete.
Unlike many athletes who have been active in a sport since childhood, Massimo started training in diving at age 49. He says this followed many years of inactivity, although he had trained in diving at age 11 until injury forced him to stop.
“The idea of starting to dive again has followed me all my life” he says. “Becoming vegan in 2008 and being followed on social media as the owner of a well-known Italian magazine promoting veganism, I decided to demonstrate that following a plant based diet I would be able, in my 50s, to find strength, balance, coordination and competitive spirit.”
- Italian Champion
- 5 x medallist at World Masters Diving Championships
- Founder of Veggie Channel
Massimo’s hard work and application paid off and one year later in 2013 he competed in Turin, becoming Italian Champion in his age group on Springboard and Platform. The next year he competed in Canada in the World Championships and finished 10th, and in 2015 he travelled to Russia for another World Championships. This time he made the podium on five occasions. He won bronze in Springboard One Metre and Three Metre Platform, and took three silver medals – in Springboard One Metre, Springboard Three Metres Synchro, and in the Synchro Platform.
“To reach a good level in a relatively short time, I took care of the diet in detail, which allowed me to have shorter recoveries and explosive power” Massimo told Great vegan Athletes. “The constancy in the training was determinant and above all the mental. I had to overcome numerous moments of discouragement and even a couple of injuries.”
One of those injuries was a neck injury which was a major setback, although he worked on strengthening the affected area and returned to full fitness.
Veganism is crucial to Massimo’s approach, partly because he was motivated to compete to prove what vegans can achieve, and partly because he knew he could use a nutritious diet to his advantage.
Veganism is also something he believes passionately in and says “I have no need to make any exceptions.” His journey to veganism started in childhood.
“It made me consider that animal suffering could be similar, if not equal, to human suffering.“
“When I was a kid I had some signals watching people hunting and fishing, then I saw a farmer slaughtering a pig and some chickens. I found all this totally absurd and unjust but my father told me that the animals do not feel any pain and that in any case man needs to eat meat to survive.
“Then one day near a crematorium I smelled the burnt meat of the dead and found it identical to that of the barbecue chops. This made me consider that animal suffering could be similar, if not equal, to human suffering.
“Then finally, in 2008, during a detox stay, I met a group of vegans, among other things very athletic, who made me understand that plant-based nutrition was sustainable for the human being and that therefore the extermination of animals was not at all justifiable. In 15 days I learned nearly everything about animal rights and how to plan a healthy vegan diet.
“Not satisfied with this, I wanted to let the rest of the world know the same things I had just discovered. At that time I was working in Paris for an important international company, I was an expert in communication and video production. I left everything and founded Veggie Channel, the first Italian web TV dedicated to promoting the vegan lifestyle. To date we have produced more than 1300 videos and we are considered the most authoritative network on vegan lifestyle.
“In 2019 we are also rewarded by the Supreme Master TV network with the ‘Shining World Compassion Award’ for our hard work in these 12 years of activism.”
It may have appeared unrealistic to expect Massimo, aged 49 to attempt to compete against Masters divers who had been competing for many years, although he found that he could apply himself effectively.
“Once I understood my limits, with the three weekly training sessions I prepared numerous competitions in which I always managed to bring home some medals. I trained a lot even when I was alone in the gym using a trampoline. The discipline I had was to treat the exercises performed on the trampoline in an almost obsessive way. In the water the training is only once or a maximum of twice a week. The rest was done in the gym and with the head at home – yes I mean just making mental rehearsals at home.”
He also fuels the training very effectively.
“Every day I eat two huge mixed salads with dried fruit (nuts and almonds) and with sprouted seeds, lentils and chickpeas. I love also vegetable soups with different legumes, sometimes buckwheat pasta with vegetables and vegan cheese, then fresh fruits, cooked whole grains (alternating the whole range of cereals possible during the week). I don’t eat ice creams, pizza, products with refined flours, sweets and don’t drink colas or alcohol.”
The vegan diver
Massimo may be unusual in his sport as a vegan, although his success speaks for itself. He has used the opportunity to produce a series of episodes following his training called ‘La sfida di Massimo Leopardi (The challenge of Massimo Leopardi ), which can be found here .
At the time of writing, sport is suspended due to the Covid-19 virus, and Massimo is looking forward to a time when he can train, with his sights firmly on the next World Championships.
“My goal is to travel and meet lots of nice people again” he says. “Also to continue to show how you can play sports without any problem, indeed with advantages if you follow a well-balanced vegan diet. And if I continue to train steadily but without pushing too hard, I should presumably be close to a gold medal at the next World Championships.”