Rach McBride is a Canadian triathlete and ambassador for Vega, the plant-based purveyor of protein powders and other performance nutrition products. Their journey as a non-binary professional athlete has seen them conquer podiums and inspire scores of youth looking to compete. Rach knows all about the impact good health can have on your performance and follows a plant-based diet, we spoke with them about their partnership with Vega, what it’s like to qualify for Boston Marathon and how the sports industry can pivot from non-inclusive gender labels.
Libby Roach- Thanks for taking the time to chat Rach! Can you speak to your personal journey of becoming an athlete?
Rach McBride– Thanks for having me! I would say sport was always a part of my life. I grew up in an active household and took part in a variety of sports growing up, but at 15 I dropped all athletics aside from horseback riding and focused more on my artsy side. I got more and more into punk, goth and riot grrrl music and began expressing myself creatively through music, photos, poetry and paintings. After university, I moved to Toronto and became heavily involved in the music and arts scene – I’ll also be the first to admit that I prioritized partying as a key part of my lifestyle during this time. I was constantly on the go with different projects, bands and events, never getting more than 4-5 hours of sleep a night. It was fun, but exhausting.
It was when I turned 27 and ran my first marathon that I recognized the need for something more. I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge and before I re-discovered sport, I felt like a part of me was missing. I did really well in that first race – so well that I qualified for the Boston Marathon and my mentor at the time suggested I could be an elite triathlete. Even though I was bordering on “too old,” I realized if I wanted to pursue this professionally, I would need to start taking my body, health and athletic career more seriously.
LR- How did you get into triathlons? Can you speak to the physical and mental preparations you undertake for a typical race?
RMcB– My parents were 10k and half marathon runners when I was growing up – I have distinct memories of them training for and running the Vancouver Marathon. Competitive sport was somewhat ingrained in me as a child, but because I had put it aside once I hit my teens, it took me a little longer to start taking it more seriously. Before I found sport, I remember feeling like a part of me was missing. In grad school, during my first master’s degree, I decided to run my first marathon and ended up qualifying for Boston. I competed in my first triathlon at age 28, which is typically considered “too old” to become an elite level triathlete, and did my first half-Ironman triathlon at age 32. I ended up winning it by 24 minutes, putting me in the top 10 in the world.
I contribute a lot of this success from fueling my body with the right nutrition. My journey towards a plant-based diet has really enhanced my physical achievements and psychological wellness. Growing up, I didn’t have a good handle on what my body needed to thrive and my struggle with disordered eating significantly impacted me and my performance. It wasn’t until later in life, through my commitment to plant-based eating, that I managed to figure out how to fuel my body the right way.
The power of plant-based eating is one of the reasons I’ve been so passionate about my partnership with Vega. Through the partnership, I’ve become even more in tune with plant-based nutrition that enables me to fuel my daily workouts and ultimately achieve my training goals, while also making sure I’m getting the appropriate nutrients. The current campaign I’m working on with Vega is all about helping individuals power their story with premium plant-based nutrition that enables them to feel and perform their best. All Vega products are vegan certified, Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free and free of artificial flavours and preservatives so they are well-suited to meet my nutrition needs and align with my goal to consume quality plant-based ingredients.
LR- What challenges have you had to overcome in sports and competition as a gender non-binary athlete? How can the industry evolve past male and female check-that-box designations?
RMcB– There are a few things, like being forced to choose either a ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ identity on race registration forms, that seem minor but are significant indicators that we’re still quite behind when it comes to inclusivity of the non-binary community. Despite having a great support system, even I was hesitant to come out as a non-binary individual at first. I was concerned that I would make people uncomfortable speaking so boldly about gender issues, or potentially receive backlash in my community as an athlete. Sport has always been focused around splitting up genders and given most triathlon race registrations only have two categories for registration – male and female – I was worried about how I would be perceived.
Despite some hurdles I’ve faced, it’s been a very empowering and eye-opening experience for me coming out as a non-binary athlete. I had a really cool experience at a small gravel bike race where we were given a blank space to fill in our gender, so we could choose if we were entering the male race or the female race – it’s small steps like these that can make a world of a difference when it comes to inclusivity in sports and we need to continue the conversation around gender in sport to ensure everyone has a voice and feels included.
LR- What advice can you offer people who are struggling with their own gender identity issues? You’re of course a role model for so many people out there, does the burden or pressure ever get to you?
RMcB– I wouldn’t say the burden or pressure ever gets to me – I love that my story inspires others! Sometimes the road to self-expression can require challenging experiences and conversations, so if I can be a source of comfort for someone, bring it on. I’ve had other athletes and people within the community come up to me after races and tell me how much I’ve helped them with their own journeys. It’s amazing and so rewarding knowing I’m doing some good in this industry.
The best advice I can give is to be yourself and be proud. Be confident that you, too, have a right to be recognized and celebrated in whatever endeavors you commit yourself to. Everyone has a right to participate in what they love, whether it’s sport, the arts, or anything else. There is room for inclusion and recognition for everyone no matter which path they decide to follow.
Photos of Rach McBride by Trent Dilkie. Interview may be edited for length or clarity. Cheer Rach on and follow their every move @rachelmcb