Featuring: Joe Inga


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The Countdown to Joe Inga’s Triathlon is ON!

Joe had no idea initially that he would become the focal point of Season One of the Plant-Strong Podcast.  He definitely received more than he bargained for - being pulled into the spotlight and having his life put under a microscope.  But he rose to the occasion and kept his promise - to himself, to his family, and to the listeners. He’s down over 40lbs and all tests are in the “healthy” range.


There’s just one more promise to keep. The Triathlon.


This week, Joe, Rip and others gather at the Esselstyn Family Farm to prepare for and complete a triathlon together.  In Part One of this two-episode bundle, we'll review how far he's come and what it means to lace up and tackle an event that would intimidate most people.  Hope you're inspired by Joe to get out there and get after it!


Support for this week's episode comes from Nutramilk - the easiest and fastest way to make your own plant milk at home!  Enjoy a $50 discount and free shipping with code PLANTSTRONG. Seeking a solution for making the plant-strong lifestyle convenient and inspiring?  The Plant-Strong Meal Planner offers 1000s of recipes customized to your preferences, an integrated shopping list, and grocery delivery!  Our Engine 2 Coaches are on hand to offer support and answer any questions - all for $1.90 a week when you sign up for a year.  Visit our Plant-Strong Meal Planner today!

Joe Inga: I'm not really big on speeches. Never really done one before, but I got to say thank you for everything that you guys have done for me in the last six months. I was in a really bad place and she'll tell you, I was headed down a really bad road and you guys have turned it around like I never would have thought possible. I know I've tried this numerous times for 60 or 90 days. I always felt great but never stuck with it. I still can't believe I'm doing a triathlon tomorrow, but you guys have definitely all saved my life and I really appreciate everything you guys are doing and this is just the icing on the cake.

Dinner guests: On the kale, baby. On the kale.

Joe Inga: There you go. On the kale.

Dinner guests: Way to go Frank.

Joe Inga: I just want to say thank you.

Dinner guests: Cheers.

Rip Esselstyn: Let me set the scene for you. That was Joe Inga giving a dinner toast at a party that we had the night before our triathlon at the Esselstyn family farm that is located in upstate New York, just outside of the capital of the state of New York, which is Albany. For those of you that are unfamiliar, we have a farm. It's been in the Esselstyn family, believe it or not, since 1675 when Martin Cornelius Van Esselstyn sailed over from Holland and kind of put a stake in the ground here. It's one of two tricentennial farms that have been owned and operated by the same family in the state of New York for over 300 years and it's just beautiful. When my dad was growing up here, it was a working farm with black Angus and dairy cows. How incredible is that? Now it grows a number of different crops.

Rip Esselstyn: We grow barley and rye and oats and it's also the vacation home for our extended family and where I take my wife and kids each summer to escape the unbearable Texas heat and to unplug and unwind. Now I want you to kind of get a feel for the farm. It's about a little shy of 500 acres and central to the property is a location called Tank House Hill and you'll be hearing it mentioned several times during the podcast. And it's about 150 feet higher than any other point in the property. And it once held the water tank that fed all the houses and barns of the property. And from the top you can literally see for miles in every direction, including the Catskill Mountains. And on a nice crisp, clear evening, you can actually see Rip Van Winkle lying on top of the Catskill Mountains. And for those of you that are unfamiliar, this is the area where Washington Irving wrote about The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

Rip Esselstyn: So it's a super special place and so special in fact that it's where my wife and I were married in 2006. Now as a little aside, I got my name Rip because my parents were staying at my dad's parents here at the farm in 1963 for a little skiing vacation they were going to go on and I actually was born almost a month and a half premature and they couldn't figure out what to call me. And my grandfather founded a clinic in the area called the Rip Van Winkle Clinic, and of course because of Washington Irving, everything in this area, it was the Rip Van Winkle Inn, The Rip Van Winkle Restaurant, The Rip Van Winkle Bridge. And so they decided to call me Rip on day two. So little aside there, but if anybody's interested, I'll be posting pictures on Instagram if you'd like to see pictures of the farm. And anybody who attended one of our first six Plant-Stock weekends, you'll know the property really well.

Rip Esselstyn: Now the main house, we call it the homestead, it's big and it's white and it has ... gosh, probably, I don't know, 18 different rooms. It's three floors. It sleeps 28 depending upon how many people we need to get in there. But we all feel beyond blessed to have a family, a homestead like this, where we can all come and relax with our families. So on this hot August night, we were eating outside on the porch that overlooks the finish line that we'd set up for the family triathlon the next morning and this homegrown event, it's the culmination of six months of coaching and training for Joe. And going from, in his words, a completely sedentary couch potato to a full blown triathlete. And we had every member of my family at the table. We had my mother and my father that we call [Esse 00:00:06:04], my sister Jane and her husband.

Rip Esselstyn: We had my two brothers, Ted and Zeb and their spouses and their kids, a gaggle of nieces and nephews. And of course we had Joe Inga and and his family, his wife and his two young kids. And I want you to know that as I was watching Joe giving his toast, I started welling up inside with pride thinking about how far this man has come over the last half a year and you'll be hearing about it and you'll also see pictures of his transformation shortly. They're super impressive. Now after dinner and as everybody was kind of mulling around, I pulled Joe into my father's office for one final conversation before the race in the morning. If you guys remember when I met Joe back in February, he said that alongside Engine 2, one of his big inspirations to start eating a whole food plant based diet was the movie Forks Over Knives. And we recorded this pre-race interview in the office where Forks Over Knives filmed my father pouring over his epidemiological research in the movie. So if you saw that you'll know exactly where we are.

Rip Esselstyn: All right Joe, this is the day we've been waiting for for six months.

Joe Inga: Yup.

Rip Esselstyn: And we met that B&B in New York back in early February, 2019, and here we are August ... what is the date today?

Joe Inga: 16th? 15th? I don't know.

Rip Esselstyn: August 15th.

Joe Inga: There you go.

Rip Esselstyn: It's August 15th right?

Joe Inga: 16th. There we go.

Rip Esselstyn: The 16th. Tomorrow's 17th. And man, it's been a great run.

Joe Inga: Yeah.

Rip Esselstyn: It's been a great run. And you know, after tomorrow, we're going to be letting you loose out into the big bad world. And I know you've been in the big, bad world, but as you have said tonight at dinner, during your toast, you kind of had some stops and starts for 30 days, 90 days. And now how do you feel going forward after this weekend?

Joe Inga: It's going to be a piece of cake, at this point. I'm so used to it. It's like if I go out to a restaurant, I don't even second guess anything. I know exactly what to ask for, what to look for. When I'm food shopping, I don't even need to read the labels. I know exactly what I'm going for. So a lot of the difficulty is gone and I've expanded my menu in my options. So I have a lot of recipes under my belt now, which is a lot slimmer now than it was when I started. But I feel good.

Rip Esselstyn: And so for people that don't know how far you've come, what's happened with your weight, with your blood chemistry, with your mental attitude, all that stuff?

Joe Inga: So I haven't really gotten my blood checked since our 60 day checkup, but at that point I believe we were down 25% on everything. I know my resting blood pressure, my blood pressure now is 10 points lower on the systolic and diastolic than it was before. I know my resting heart rate is probably about 60 to 70 roughly, and it used to be 90 to a hundred which was always like that. So it's a lot better there. I went from a 40 inch waist to some 32s are big. So I've lost a lot of weight, approximately 40 pounds. I actually was just under 170 the other day. I started at 213. So I was at like 169 so it's like 45 pounds and I feel awesome.

Rip Esselstyn: So of course weight loss is a wonderful benefit of eating this way. And when you're eating a whole food, plant strong diet that is high in fiber, high in water, very nutrient dense, calorie light, losing weight is a sustainable by-product that just happens. But what also happens is we start to get and become very attractive on the inside at a cellular and molecular level. Our blood chemistry, our blood pressure improves. If we're pre-diabetic, we start to reverse that stuff and so I want you to understand what's going on inside and so I asked my dad to help describe what's going on with these important changes internally.

Rip Esselstyn: What, Esse, in your mind, what's going on on the inside with Joe at a cellular level molecular level, that is also pretty attractive?

Dr. Esselstyn: Well, you have to recall that the body is an absolute symphony of these wonderful chemical reactions that are absolutely coordinated for optimum performance. And when people become grossly obese and overweight, you can see how things begin to go astray. Why do they get this high blood pressure? Because now their blood vessels are losing their elasticity. They're becoming stiff, thick and inflamed. All this obesity is literally at an absolute harbor of inflammation. And that inflammation is making them diabetic, hypertensive, giving them vascular disease, and it's absolutely contributing to their increased risk, not only for diabetes and heart disease and stroke, but also increased risk for malignancy. So there really is this tremendous symphony which is being brought back into line and with an absolutely beautiful sound.

Dr. Esselstyn: And all these reactions are running correctly as they should, but how easily it is to go off the rails when you're eating this processed food, which has the capability not only of making you sick, but actually bringing you to a premature demise. And I think what I'm so proud about what you're doing with the police and firemen, if you can just imagine if you bring those forces into the line, not only will there be an enormous saving publicly for taking care of these people, because there's not going to be of any this chronic illness, but at the same time, it sets an enormous good example for the community to think that these people that are trying to save their lives, police and fire, are taking care of themselves as well.

Rip Esselstyn: Right before dinner, I asked Joe if he would be willing to walk over to the pond, it's about a five acre pond, where the swim course was going to be held, and if we could do a dry swim through the course. It was important for me that Joe go into the swim with a little more confidence. You know, he had almost no experience with open water swimming and I just knew that it was feeling a little big and scary and daunting for him. And I knew that if I could pace him through the 350 meter swim course, that he would feel a lot better going into the race the next morning. And so we're going to pick this up as we climb out of the water and you'll be able to hear all the kids splashing in the background.

Rip Esselstyn: We just came all the way from over there.

Joe Inga: That's good, that's good. I wouldn't even have gotten halfway out there, out the first way.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Yeah. And so tell me again, how long have you been swimming? You just started?

Joe Inga: I started when we did this.

Rip Esselstyn: So it's like six months.

Joe Inga: Six months.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Yeah. So awesome. Well, so how are you feeling about the swim tomorrow? You just got-

Joe Inga: I was nervous about it beforehand. I'm still a little nervous, but.

Rip Esselstyn: You'll be fine.

Joe Inga: If I got to take a break, I take a break.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. You just do what you did today and everything will be hunky dory.

Joe Inga: The bike and the run I'm not too concerned about. It's the swimming, because I'm new to this.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Well it's a beautiful pond. The temperature is idyllic. And you're going to have support around you. We'll have somebody on the paddle board and maybe even somebody in a kayak. So if you like, at any point in time you're like, you need help, you can grab on.

Joe Inga: All right. Cool.

Rip Esselstyn: Little insurance policy.

Joe Inga: Good. I'm sure my family appreciates that.

Rip Esselstyn: After doing a little dry run of the swim course, Joe was on a roll and so I decided to take him on a test drive, a test bike, of the bike course. And I found when I was doing triathlons that if you could preview the course the day before the race, it just set everything at ease. Mentally you knew exactly what to expect. And so I wanted Joe to feel as relaxed and at ease and as comfortable as possible going into this race.

Rip Esselstyn: You know your sport.

Joe Inga: Sporting a look right now.

Rip Esselstyn: So am I, I guess. So you got ... Oh, you got a water bottle container. You should probably take ... have you got a water bottle? If not-

Joe Inga: Yeah, it's in my car.

Rip Esselstyn: Okay, good. And we're probably going to be starting between 10 and 10:30 in the morning.

Joe Inga: Okay.

Rip Esselstyn: Which means that the dew should be off the road.

Joe Inga: All right.

Rip Esselstyn: So it shouldn't be too slippery and it's supposed to be pretty humid tomorrow, so hopefully we'll beat some humidity, as well.

Joe Inga: All right, cool.

Rip Esselstyn: I got a feeling when you cross the finish line, I think you're going to be one happy fellow.

Joe Inga: And still, even though I've been practicing, I've been trained or whatever, it's still intimidating, you know?

Rip Esselstyn: Sure.

Joe Inga: Like I said when we first talked about it, like there's no way someone can pull this off in six months.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Yeah. Well and with-

Joe Inga: No matter how big or small.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. To me what's really impressive is that you told me that you really haven't done much of anything outside of your firefighting stuff for almost what? 12 years?

Joe Inga: Yeah, something like that.

Rip Esselstyn: Ten years?

Joe Inga: I would go through phases. When I failed my medical or whatever, then maybe I would kick my butt into gear or whatever. But nothing this serious.

Rip Esselstyn: No. All right, so ready to tool around a little bit?

Joe Inga: Yeah.

Rip Esselstyn: All right.

Rip Esselstyn: It's been more than rewarding each week to watch Joe's progress and to coach him through this transition over the last half year. Coaching is something that we believe in at Engine 2. Our team works day in and day out to coach hundreds of people on their personal improvement plans, utilizing our rescue 10x program. 10x is for people who want support and accountability for 10 consecutive weeks of completing the seven day rescue challenges. Each tribe is special. There are weekly video conference calls, workbook activities to do at home that allow you to overhaul your habits and an arsenal of support tools to help you adopt the Plant-Strong lifestyle. For more information, visit engine2.com and click on resources to learn more. And please use the code Plant-Strong for $50 off your registration fee.

Rip Esselstyn: I want you to know that we have gotten literally like hundreds of emails from people that have been inspired by your journey. This is one that I want to read because it's from another firefighter. His name is Ryan Fletcher. He says, "Rip. I am Joe. At least I've experienced the things that he is going through. I am a completely plant based guy. I am also a firefighter, triathlete, ultra runner and a former fat guy. I was between 280 and 300 pounds at my heaviest and it was books like the Engine 2 Diet, Rich Roll's Finding Ultra and Scott Jurek's Eat And Run that changed my life. I fell hard into the plant based lifestyle. It wasn't always easy though. At home my wife and kids came on the journey with me and for the most part they are totally plant-based.

Rip Esselstyn: However, like Joe, I come from an Italian background. I grew up on lots of pasta, meatballs, meat pies, bread and a lot of cheese. Every dish had bread, dairy and meat. My extended family did not understand my choices and would be mad and insulted when I didn't eat the food that they prepared at our family gatherings, which are quite often. Like Joe, I face criticism at the firehouse. The kitchen is the primary gathering spot in the firehouse. Everyone cooks and eats together. It is where we discuss what is for training that day, discuss calls and catch up on family happenings. It's the place that brings the crew together. When you don't eat what the guys cook and you bring your own food, you are making yourself an outsider. Some of the guys would try and pressure me into eating what they made. I faced outright hostility from some of the guys and the jokes were endless and hard, but I persevered.

Rip Esselstyn: I didn't want to be like my family. Overweight, heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetic. I love being a firefighter and I didn't want to be a statistic by dying of a heart attack. Today my family has seen the positive changes and some have made steps towards being plant based. They even fix food that I will eat when we are together. I still get joked at the firehouse, but without the hostility. My crew knows that I won't change and I have gained some respect for being dedicated to my Plant-Strong lifestyle. Please let Joe know that he isn't alone and that there were other firefighters out there that are living the plant based lifestyle. He can do it. Tell him to hold tight and stay strong. Keep spreading the word. Sincerely. Firefighter Ryan Fletcher."

Rip Esselstyn: How's that? How does that make you feel?

Joe Inga: That sounds great. That's awesome. At least everybody else is going through it and it's not just me.

Rip Esselstyn: Oh no. And the thing is, it's not just Ryan at the firehouse. It's everybody in every walk of life. Right? That's getting it from their coworkers. That's getting it from their family members. Of course you and I know that at the firehouse, it's kind of like everything on steroids. It's exponentially tough, right?

Joe Inga: Yeah. It's like high school. It's exactly like high school. So you get that one reputation, that reputation gets spread around and built up and that's how it is.

Rip Esselstyn: You just called your dad to say hi and he mentioned something about your mental attitude.

Joe Inga: Yeah. My dad actually said when we went to visit them a couple of weeks ago that it was unbearable to even try and talk to me. I was so grumpy. I was nasty. I was always tired and groggy. And now I'm in a better place. I'm in a good mood all the time. I'm feeling good. I got more energy. When somebody asked me if I want to do something, I get up and do it instead of creating excuses all the time. And doing good.

Rip Esselstyn: That's good. So tomorrow we got the triathlon.

Joe Inga: Yeah.

Rip Esselstyn: We did a little preview of the course. How are you feeling before the big day?

Joe Inga: I'm still nervous because it's something I've never done before.

Joe Inga: And like I said, if you had asked me six months ago or even six years ago to do something like this, I'd think you're nuts. But I'm doing it. I'm a little nervous about the swim because that's been a little bit difficult to train for because we only have access to the pool. But I got through it today. So it's just going to be a matter of just pacing myself. It's going to be a mental game is what it's going to be.

Rip Esselstyn: And what about the swim was difficult for you, as opposed to being in a pool for example?

Joe Inga: I feel like in the pool, like even ... Obviously I've never swam really before all of this. So I feel like in a pool, once you get to the other end, I tend to grab ahold of the wall. I don't know how to not grab ahold of the wall. But when you're in open water and you know that the water is not five feet deep or six feet deep and there's nothing to grab ahold of, it's a little panicky, I guess.

Rip Esselstyn: I noticed when we were doing that practice loop and we go around the raft that you really became good friends with that raft.

Joe Inga: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, open water is a lot different, but the key thing is that I got to ... And I know I'm going to run into it tomorrow because I've done it every time I've tried, is trying to keep up with somebody else and I've just got to set my own pace and just do my own race. This is, I'm not winning any metals. I'm here to prove that this works and that I've come this far.

Rip Esselstyn: So for everybody that's listening, it's going to be a 300 meter swim in a five acre pond. Then we're going to jump on our bikes and we're going to do about a two and a half to three mile mountain bike over hill and dale. It's very kind of rolly.

Joe Inga: It was tougher than I was expecting when we went out on it earlier.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Yeah. And then we're going to park the bikes and then we're going to jump into our running shoes and then we're going to run about a mile and a half. And it is very hilly and then that'll be it. And my prediction is you'll do this in somewhere between an hour to an hour and 15.

Joe Inga: I'd say that's pretty accurate. That's what I'm aiming for.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah, and it's going to be a beautiful day. I'll be a little humid, so we've got to make sure we're hydrated. I don't want you cramping up. Right? But yeah, I mean, so I want you to get a good night's sleep. Don't let that two year old keep you up.

Joe Inga: No, I think my wife will take care of that.

Rip Esselstyn: Or the five year old. And man, it's a big glorious, wonderful celebration of everything that you have achieved and here's to you. Congrats.

Joe Inga: Thank you very much.

Rip Esselstyn: So it's the morning of the triathlon. Joe did not have a great night's sleep. In fact, he just told me that he didn't sleep a wink. I feel awful. But on the other hand, I totally understand pre-race jitters. I've had more than my share of them over my career. In fact, I just had them recently when I was getting ready to break that world record. Now for Joe, he is about to come face to face with the moment of truth, with a goal that has the power to change his life. We're going to end here for now. Next week we'll tell you exactly how this unfolds. Have a great week, my friends. This is Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: This episode was brought in part to you by the NutraMilk. By now you know I'm a big fan of this magical nut milking machine. What Joe doesn't know is that we have one waiting for him at the finish line. It's a grand prize for all that he has accomplished during season one of the Plant-Strong podcast and to thank him for giving us permission to put his life on display. We hope that he enjoys making all sorts of plant milks, veggie broths and nut butters at home, to not only share with his family but to also share with the guys at the firehouse where he continues to set an amazing example. This blender is best in class in being easy and efficient and I can't recommend it enough. Visit theNutraMilk.com and pick up one for your household. Save $50 and enjoy free shipping with the code Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: I want to thank my co creator of the podcast. Scott Battishill of Ten Percent Media. Laurie Kortowich, producer extraordinaire and director of Engine 2 events. Ami Mackey, Engine 2's curator of creative content. Wade Clark with Bumble Media, our audio engineer. And Carrie Barrett for technical production.

Rip Esselstyn: I have to thank my parents, Ann and Essy, who have been such guiding lights and inspirations over the years as well as the great pioneers of this movement, who have been pushing this boulder up the mountain. As they say, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Remember, if you're digging the show, please rate us at Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. And with that, let me say, peace Engine 2, keep it Plant-Strong.

Ami Mackey