EPISODE 8: IMPROVISE…ADAPT…OVERCOME
with Paul de Gelder
Change is a Choice.
Paul de Gelder wasn't given a choice the day he was attacked by a shark as a clearance diver in Sydney Harbor. But he did choose how he would react. Using the mantra he’d been taught in the Army to "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome,” Paul was able to fight back from life-threatening injuries and to create a life that exceeds his most wild dreams.
In this episode, Paul shares how and why he adopted a plant-based diet and what it’s meant to his health, and his efforts to save the very creatures that nearly killed him. Now a host of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Paul is a vocal advocate for shark education and conservation.
Buckle-up for this one and prepare to be inspired by someone who will make you question every excuse you’ve ever made.
Paul de Gelder
Army Airborne – Navy Bomb Disposal Diver – Shark Attack Survivor – TV Host – Actor – Author – Speaker
These three words – a mantra Paul learnt in the Australian Army as a young Paratrooper – resonated with him the first time he heard them.
Paul de Gelder chased adventure wherever he could find it, from his wild ride as a hoodlum teen and his whirlwind lifestyle working in strip clubs & the music industry to hauling his way up to the elite echelons of the Australian Defense Forces as an Army paratrooper and then Navy bomb disposal diver.
But trouble hunted him down in the form of a 9ft bull shark in February 2009 while diving for the Navy. Paul lost two limbs, and his career as a daredevil diver was flung into jeopardy.
Drawing on everything his eventful life had taught him, Paul left nothing to chance in his recovery. He fought through excruciating pain, smashing challenge after challenge whilst amazing the medical staff and the Australian public with his will to succeed. His inspiring story as detailed in his autobiography “No Time for Fear” takes the saying “never say die” to a whole new level.
Find Paul on social media @pauldegelder
Transcript of Episode 8: IMPROVISE…ADAPT…OVERCOME
Paul de Gelder: I'm absolutely grateful for the fact that I got a second chance. The strangest thing is if you had asked me if I would rather die or lose two limbs I would have said I would rather die, because I would not know who I would be. I would not know how I would do my job or live my life without these two limbs. It's so strange now to live a life where it's just normal.
Rip Esselstyn: Today I'm talking about change and what motivates each and every one of us as humans to change. You know you hear the saying that people never change and you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I wholeheartedly disagree with this. I have worked with literally thousands upon thousands of people who do change because they have made the choice to pull themselves out of this sea of inertia and paralyzing fear that have an unfounded stranglehold on so many of us these days and inspire them to set sail for a whole new life destination. You may want to be healthier, but this involves starting an exercise program. This involves you eating a cleaner, greener, plant-based diet. You may want a new job. You may want to get out of a broken, unhealthy relationship. Whatever it is all of these things require you to face the fears that have been holding you back and preventing you from living the life that you absolutely deserve. Today I'm working with people to inspire them to eat a plant-based diet, to face their fears, and to life a bigger and more nourishing life.
In this episode you're going to learn all about these things and be inspired to create change in your life. Look at Joe Inga who reached out to me in January. He sent me an email because he was concerned about his failing health. He was overweight, had super high cholesterol and blood pressure, and he was worried that he was becoming not only a liability as a firefighter but also he wasn't the father that he knew his family needed. Fortunately for Joe, he took the initiative to create change before something horrific happened. But for someone like Paul de Gelder, he created change in his life because he was given a second chance at life. Paul is lucky to be alive today. And after surviving such a terrifying shark attack, it's a miracle that Paul is alive. But he didn't take his second chance and squander it. He learned in his dive training to improvise, to adapt and overcome.
Paul is here today to share that survival story. He is an inspiration. Paul teaches us about his training, about facing and overcoming fears, creating change and about how he eats a plant-strong diet to be more manly, energized, and healthier than he ever has been in his entire life.
So Paul, thank you for having us in your home.
Paul de Gelder: You're welcome.
Rip Esselstyn: This is our first time meeting. You look absolutely amazing. I think it's safe to say that this body of yours is built by plants and one bull shark. Would that be accurate?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah.
Rip Esselstyn: Now I know you've probably told this story at least three times.
Paul de Gelder: We're [inaudible 00:03:41].
Rip Esselstyn: Maybe four. But I'd like to start out with that story.
Paul de Gelder: I joined the Army in Australia in November 2000 because I just was kind of failing at everything else. And I think that's a fairly common theme amongst people that join the military, especially the infantry and the lower ranks. I had tried a lot of things. I had been on a lot of adventures. I worked in hospitality for a long time. I became a rapper, opened up for Snoop Dogg and thought I'd made it as a rapper. And that wasn't to be apparently. And I was just kind of lost. I'd been kicked out of home at 17 and failed high school. But I was very well read and I knew about this big bad world out there. And I so badly wanted to be a part of it. But I just didn't know how.
And so I actually followed my two younger brothers into the Army and they were both artillery. And they said, "Whatever you do, don't join infantry. It's too hard. You won't make it." And so I joined infantry and loved it. And all of that fitness that had been instilled in me as a young person, my dad was a police officer in his spare time. He was a swimming instructor. And so we grew up swimming four, five times a week.
Rip Esselstyn: All Australians do, right?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. Not all of them. Some more than others. But that fitness and that strength of mentality had gone away for a long time when I started rebelling around 15 and started drinking and smoking and smoking weed and doing drugs through working in hospitality. And I really was not in any sort of shape, but not a lot of drugs in basic training in the Army. Not a lot of drinking. So the training brought that all out of me. And I started to find that value and purpose through that sense of fitness and achievement.
And so I stayed in the Army for about four and a half years, became an Army paratrooper jumping out of planes. Did peace keeping with the United Nations through Southeast Asia and really had a great time. But it just became a little repetitive for me. And I was supposed to go to Iraq on a trip but it got canceled four days before I left. And I kind of got fed up with that. The cycle of being dirty and filthy and sleeping in muddy holes and being cold and with nothing on the horizon. And so I thought, "I don't want to be disenfranchised with this life. I love being in the military. I just need a change." But I couldn't go backwards. I needed to go forwards. I always feel like if you're going to make a change at least set it a level above what you're doing. Even if you fail, you can probably come back to where you were and try again.
And so I thought, "I don't want to go to Special Forces in the Army because I'm sick of being out in the bush. Let's try something different." And I found out about the clearance divers, and I just thought, "These guys are incredible." No one looks directly at them. I just thought, "What's stopping me from being a bit special like that?" It wasn't a hypothetical question. I honestly a lot of the questions we ask ourselves through our lives I feel like people think they're hypothetical. And they ask them and they just don't answer it. Whereas you have to answer those questions because they're important. I thought, "What is stopping me from being special like those guys?"
Rip Esselstyn: So what's stopping you from being special? In Joe's case in the past he'd adopt a whole food, plant-based diet after his disappointing firefighter physical exam. But then he'd fall back after a few months because he didn't want to stand out in the firehouse. What's your excuse?
My father talked in episode one about the joy and adventure of going against the grain. Man, you talk about somebody that was initially made fun of by his peers for trying to heal and prevent heart disease with strong food. But later some of those same peers came to him for treatment and now obviously his research has led to significant change and healing in the lives of more people than any of us can count. Eating a plant-strong diet isn't about fitting in. At least not today. Yes, some day it will be mainstream. But for now I want you to take joy in standing tall for your health and for going against the grain.
Paul de Gelder: I didn't have an answer so I thought, "Stuff it. I'm going to try."
Rip Esselstyn: Is the clearance diver the equivalent of a Navy SEAL in the States?
Paul de Gelder: It's similar. It's not really the equivalent. So clearance divers don't come under Special Forces, Navy SEALs do as a branch of the Navy. But Navy SEALs also do a lot of hostage rescue, terrorist killing, things like that. Our role is more along the lines of... We do do that stuff. But we don't have as many people in the Australian military as you guys do. So we can't specialize because we don't have enough people to do that. So we do everything. Everything from underwater bomb disposal to land-based bomb disposal to underwater tools repair, salvage, to counter terrorism, to like everything to do with the water. So we have to be very well-trained in every aspect of that role. So it's the closest similarity we have really.
And so I went into it with the mindset they're either going to kill me or they're going to fire me. Thankfully they didn't kill me.
Rip Esselstyn: So as a clearance diver just because I have a swimming background and I swam in college, are you guys having to actually swim a lot like miles and miles?
Paul de Gelder: In selection training we do 10 days of basically physical, mental, and emotional anguish. The first day is a four hour run. And that's like hill sprints, Indian file, fireman's carries, all that sort of stuff. It's not just running. So you do that for four hours. Then you get to the bottom of the hill back at dive school and they tell everyone, "All right. Stretch up. We're going to go and do that again." And you're looking down the barrel of another four hour run. And that's when most people drop out and they're just like, "There's no way. I can't do this." And so if you can get past that first day, most of the people hold on. Then the next day it's a six hour swim through Sydney Harbor in the middle of the night, wake you up at 11 PM. You put on a pair of fins. You put on your overalls and a wetsuit and you link arms and you lay out on your back and you kick your legs for six hours across the harbor nonstop.
Rip Esselstyn: What's the temperature of that water?
Paul de Gelder: It depends on the time of year. I was lucky. I did a summer course. So somewhat lucky, because the summer course is nice in the water, but it's hot as balls when you're running a marathon. So you wake up the next day after three hours sleep, you've got to run 22 kilometers. And then it just goes on and on and on five hours of PT on the soft sand, pack marches, stretcher carries, first aid stands, mind games, pulling boats through the harbor, just on. So I lost about 20 pounds in 10 days.
Rip Esselstyn: So how many guys are you doing this with?
Paul de Gelder: It started out with about 37 and we ended with 10. They call you up into this little room to tell you how you went, because you don't know. They don't tell you anything through that whole process. And they told me that I got an A pass, congratulations, and honestly the tears started welling up in my face in front of this panel of big, tough, senior Navy clearance divers. I'm like, "Hold it together, Paul. Hold it together."
Rip Esselstyn: Well, you must have felt so incredibly proud of yourself.
Paul de Gelder: Unbelievable.
Rip Esselstyn: Just absolutely-
Paul de Gelder: I couldn't believe it.
Rip Esselstyn: ... like dream come true.
Paul de Gelder: Yeah, and then I went on to nine months of intensive basic clearance diver training. So it just got harder from there. Long, long days. Long nights for nine months. But I passed. We had a good team, a good solid team. And the difference in being an infantry soldier in the Army there's a lot of followers, not many leaders, whereas the clearance divers are all leaders. Everyone takes control. Everyone looks after each other. Everyone makes sure that everyone's okay. So that was the support network we had to work with to help push each other through.
Rip Esselstyn: So in that boat that evening or that morning with the shark attack, you're with a couple guys that... I mean these guys are capable guys. You've known these guys for a long time. Right?
Paul de Gelder: This is like February 11th, 2009.
Rip Esselstyn: Okay. February 11th, 2009.
Paul de Gelder: And a summer in Australia, last month of summer. So generally speaking a fairly hot period, but it was seven o'clock in the morning, overcast in Sydney Harbor. Right alongside the Navy base where we've worked for decades. So nothing out of the ordinary for this day, really. And I had one of the new guys in the water. And what was happening was we were in the first phase of testing some counter terrorism equipment. It was unmanned video and sonar. So the goal was this equipment could go on the pier, on the wharf, or on the ship, anywhere around the world and we could turn it on and it would detect movement by sonar under the water or detect movement by video on top of the water. And so we were using that, using us as attack swimmers to see if it would track us and film us and whatever.
And so the new guy was in the water for the first half an hour. And I just pulled him out. I said, "Come on, mate. Take a break. Let me take over." And I rolled over the edge of the zodiac, little black inflatable boat. Black wetsuit, pair of black fins. And on the surface of the back, kicking my legs. On my first run headed towards the bow of one of the warships just thinking nothing of it.
Honestly one of my biggest fears in life ever was sharks. Sharks and public speaking are my two gigantic fears. I quit an info text course because I had to speak in front of the class. And sharks was something I always had to put into the back of my mind. All my buddies knew I was terrified of them.
So every time I got in the water, that morning, I'm just kicking along and I'm like, "I wonder if a shark attacked me right now..."
Rip Esselstyn: You're thinking that?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. I was thinking, "Where would I best have my hands? Because when I'm," what we do finning on the surface as it's called, we get trained to cross our hands across our chest and just kick out legs like that like a little torpedo. Whereas I like to have my hands in the water so I can feel it. I feel like I'm with nature and I'm just flowing with the water. And I'm thinking, "If I had my hands down by my side like this, it could trap my arm and I wouldn't be able to fight it off." And then I put them against my chest and I thought, "Well, if I have them up across my chest, I could protect some vital organs." And then I put my hands down by my side, looked over my left shoulder to make sure that I was going in the right direction and a shark attacked me.
Rip Esselstyn: I think you said this. But there hadn't been a shark attack in Sydney Harbor for 60 years, right?
Paul de Gelder: 60 years. Maybe it was just predestined to be because what has happened after it is truly remarkable.
Rip Esselstyn: So it is so murky if I'm not mistaken in that bay that you can't see your hand in front of your face. Is that right?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. In most parts of Sydney Harbor it's murky so that you can't really see. You might be able to see your hand in front of your face but not much past that. Perfect habitats for bull sharks. They love it. And so no one saw the shark coming. We didn't even see it leave. It came up from underneath me and latched onto my hamstring, the back of my right leg, and my right hand which was by my side against that part of my leg. And I was looking the other way. So I didn't even know what it was. And the teeth are so sharp and they have this gel coating on them so they just slide straight into flesh. And it's just so seamless you don't even really feel it. All I felt was the pressure clamped down on my body.
And I was looking behind me and I thought, "That's weird." And I turned around thinking that maybe the guys in the boat had hit me. And I came face to face with my worst nightmare. And my mind couldn't process what I was seeing because I'd never seen that before. And that survival instinct kicks in and I thought, "All right. I've seen Shark Week. I've seen the Crocodile Hunter. I'll jab it in the eyeball." And so I tried and I tried to move my arm to jab it in the eyeball because I could see the eyeball right there, right next to my hand. But I couldn't. And I looked down and I could see all the teeth embedded into the top of my hand, pinning it to my side. All the teeth across my thigh half embedded into my leg, the lips pulled back, the gum, just this big eye staring at me. Then I didn't know what to do.
And I thought, "Okay. Left hand. I've still got a left hand." And I reached over to try to jab it in the eyeball, but I was an inch short because it had me by the back of the leg and I just couldn't reach it. So out of desperation, I put my hand on its nose and tried to lever it off of me, but all that did was push the teeth of the lower jaw deeper into my leg. And so that was when a bit of the pain kicked in because up until that point, it was still just kind of pressure and panic and adrenaline. And so I cocked back to the next step is punch it in the nose. Everyone says punch it in the nose.
So I cocked back to punch it in the nose, but as soon as I'd do that, I guess the blood from my leg starts to flood its mouth or it detects me fighting back or something. But something happens where it decides to start thrashing me about to remove the flesh. And so soon as it starts to shake me, those teeth are working in unison like a saw. And the pain kicks in and it just took every ounce of fight out of me.
The pain was so horrific. When the head shakes, the teeth go in opposite direction, literally sawing through your flesh. And the funny thing is so many people ask me if it hurt and I'm just like, "Really? Go and kick your skin on that table over there and then multiply it by a million." And it lasted about 10 seconds. And towards the end of it, the pain kind of washed away. And I realized that I was going to die. And I thought to myself, "I'm not going home today. I'm going to die right now. And a calm washed over me. And I thought, "Am I ready to die?" And it's not like... People say that time kind of stood still, but I think it's all the chemicals and adrenaline and all that stuff in your brain that makes it go into hyper speed. And I was thinking all of this in a blink of an eye.
And I thought, "Well, you know what? I've done far more than I could have ever thought possible in my life from where I started out. I've lived 10 lives in these 31 years. And if I'm going to die then I'm good. I don't have any regrets." And I just let go.
And then the shark had sawed through my whole leg and sawed off through my hand and ripped them out of my body. And because I wasn't attached to the shark anymore, the wetsuit made me buoyant and brought me to the surface. And I popped my head out of the water. The shark's tail thrashed water into my face and you can see this is all on YouTube as well.
Rip Esselstyn: I saw it, yeah.
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. And that kind of shocked me back to reality and I realized I wasn't dead. And I thought, "Shit. I have to get out of here. I've got to get back to the boat." I saw my safety boat and I thought, "Okay. I've got to get there." I'm in mission mode right now. I don't know how bad anything is until I start to swim and I take my arm out to take a stroke and my hand is gone. My wetsuit ends at the end of my arm. And so the medical training comes into play and I think, "Okay. I've got to keep that wound above my heart to stem the bleeding or I'm going to bleed out. So I keep my right arm out of the water. And I'm swimming with one leg and one hand back to the boat because I can't even feel my right leg. I don't have any idea what's wrong with it. All I know is I can't feel it. And the guys in the boat said that by the time they started coming towards me, they could see me swimming through a pool of my own blood.
I had one goal. Get back to the boat. That's all I had to do. And so I focused on that. Kept swimming. The guys got to me, pulled me out of the water, and started first aid, and kept me alive until the paramedics got there. Which was no easy task in itself because there was an artery squirting blood. One of the guys had to pinch it closed with his fingers. The tourniquets weren't working. By the time we got to the pier, my chief that was with the scientist already thought I was dead. It wasn't until I started spluttering or something that he realized I was still alive.
So everything came into play to keep me alive that day. The training, the absolute amazing physical shape that I was in. My body being able to function on lowered amounts of oxygen. My mates being trained to stay calm and under control in intense situations like that. The fact that the paramedics were close by. The hospital was close by. And so I'm just so fortunate. That shark it missed my femoral artery by a couple of millimeters. And if it had nicked that I would have bled out and died before I was even out of the water. So I'm absolutely grateful for the fact that I got a second chance.
And the strangest thing is that if you had asked me previous to that if I would rather die or lose two limbs, I would have said I would rather die, because I would not know who I would be. I would not know how I would do my job or live my life without these two limbs. And it's so strange now to live a life where it's just normal.
Rip Esselstyn: When I met Paul de Gelder, I knew instantly this guy needs to be at this year's Camp Plant-Stock Weekend. His story as you're hearing about right this second is more than remarkable. It is the epitome of human triumph over tragedy. Camp Plant-Stock it's all about celebrating triumph. Triumph in science. Triumph in food. Triumph in transformation. And triumph celebrating you and where the triumphant plant-based movement is heading.
This year features a line up like no other. We have husband wife neurologists Doctors Dean and Ayesha Sherzai who shine rays of hope on the Alzheimer dementia epidemic. We have Dan Buettner the founder of the Blue Zones sharing his expertise and lessons from cultures around the world where it is the norm to thrive until your 80s, 90s, and beyond. We have John Mackey the CEO of Wholefoods Market who will be sharing a message he has never delivered before on leading with love. We also have experts on diabetes, sports medicine, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and of course heart disease.
What do all these speakers have in common? They bring optimism to the tsunami of chronic disease that our country is currently facing. And Paul is a standout in the crowd showing us all that compassion for animals, even the ones that can hurt us, is the way in which we should strive to live. Join us from August 9th to the 11th in Black Mountain, North Carolina just outside of Asheville with hundreds of like-minded people, buffets of whole plant-strong foods, plenty of outdoor activities like kickball and yoga, planned kids activities, live music, plus a morning meditation turned dance party that you won't want to miss. Visit engine2.com/events and plan your summer trip today.
Paul de Gelder: Couple of days after the shark attack I knew my hand was gone. I'd processed that. There's nothing I can do about it. But if I can keep my leg, then maybe life will go on as normal. So I was holding onto that hope that I'd keep my leg. And then when I had to face the reality of having it chopped off, the couple of days after that was probably the toughest of any period of my life. I went through immense pain. The pain management team drugged me to the eyeballs. They could not stop the pain. I was laying in my hospital bed rolling from side to side for 20 hours, just crying and begging to die. It got so bad I asked my mom to find me a gun so I could kill myself. One hour okay. Two hours okay. Five hours, six hours. 20 hours of agonizing torture. And I just didn't know if it was ever going to stop.
I was going out of my mind. And then finally it stopped. And I was laying in my hospital bed thinking, "What now?" And that was when I had to make the hard decisions because it was either I give up, I lose my career, I lose my identity, I lose my purpose and my value, or I don't. And so I just chose not to. I had an internal dialog that was very supportive. It was mission-driven to the point where I know what it's like to be drugged to the eyeballs like when I was a teenager, smoking weed every day. Couldn't think. Scared to go outside. Having no money. Feeling like you have no future, you have no value.
I swore to myself that I would never go back to that, because that was what I was terrified of at that point. So that was it. There was no other way. I was not going to go backwards. I was going to move forwards and I was just going to make it happen. And that was it. If I failed, I failed.
Rip Esselstyn: So maybe you've already said it, but I'm going to ask it more directly. So what would you say to all the Joes and the Janes and the people out there that are afraid to confront their fears? Would you say get after it and do it?
Paul de Gelder: The first thing that I did to overcome my fear of sharks after getting eaten by one was learn all about them. So the knowledge dispels fear. It's an old adage. And so I learned all about sharks because I was getting so much media attention because of what happened. And every time there was a shark interaction in Australia, the media would come to me. And so to prevent myself sounding like a dumb ass, I had to learn about everything about sharks. Where they lived, what they ate, why were they interacting with humans and things like that. And through doing that, I built a familiarity with the sharks. And so I naturally just stopped fearing them and became more and more curious about them to the point that I wanted to go and see them and not fear them and see them as the beautiful part of the ecosystem and nature that I knew them to be. But just hadn't seen it.
And so I feel like one of the first steps you have to do is build a fascination with the thing that you fear most and learn about it. And that will assist you in overcoming it and you'll build a familiarity and a natural curiosity about it. And it won't be so scary. And then you can take the next step into confronting that fear.
Rip Esselstyn: Simple but very profound. So how long did it take you after that shark ate parts of you to get back in the water?
Paul de Gelder: As soon as my staples were out of my leg, I was in the water. The three months to the day I was down at Bondi with two of my buddies and my surfboard and trying to stand up on one leg, because I didn't care, man.
Rip Esselstyn: Is that because these guys are like, "Hey, you need to get back on that horse." Or were you like, "I'm getting back in the water." Or?
Paul de Gelder: No, no. Well, it was three months. That's a long time for a Navy diver to be out of the water. And look, I didn't feel like there was anything left to be afraid of, because I literally nearly been killed by my worst nightmare. And I think you get to make the choice.
That's one of the greatest things that I've discovered about humans and especially about me is we get to choose. This is the single greatest and truly only power that we have in our lives is our power of choice. What do I want? What do you want? We get to ask ourselves that every single day and then we can act on it or we don't react on it. And so I chose when I was laying in that hospital bed with one leg and one hand, what am I going to do? Am I going to be depressed and sad and push all of that love and support away and have a shitty life? Or am I going to dust myself off and get on with the job like the military told me? Use all of the tools I have at my disposal, my friends, my family, my training, to go and have a good life and push past the boundaries.
And I realized that I had nothing left to be afraid of. You can curl up in a ball and be afraid of everything and give up. Or you just realize there's nothing. There's no more fear. There's nothing left to be afraid of. So it's something we create anyway. Fear through the environments we grow up on, the preconceptions that other people feed to us. That's what fear comes from. There's the natural fight or flight. Everyone's afraid of getting eaten by a shark. It hurts. Trust me. It sucks. Swimming with them and I've seen more sharks in the past five years than most people will ever see in their entire lives. And they are amazing. They are not to be feared.
Rip Esselstyn: Being afraid and facing your fears and failure, all of that comes in one wonderful package. And when you can face your fears, when you can fail again and again and again, it means you're one step closer to actually achieving what you want to achieve in your life, right? Whether it's being that robust, healthy version of yourself. Whether it's having that dream job. Whether it's being in the relationship that you deserve to be in. So go back to episode number four with J. D. Roth were we talk about failure and we talk about how failing, right? Whoever fails the most wins. So overcome those fears, learn to fail and learn to embrace becoming the most robust, awesome version of yourself.
And so what was the inspiration, the motivation behind you going... And I'm going to use the term plant-strong because I love plant-strong.
Paul de Gelder: I'm a firm believer in listening to the universe. If something is continuously popping up in your life, there is probably a reason for that. And I really didn't know much about the vegan movement or being plant-based or anything like that. I was very much the military guy that was always taught in all the bodybuilding magazines. I was not very big or muscly because I was an endurance athlete, but I was always trying to get those muscles. And so I thought that you had to eat all the chicken breasts in the world. Chicken and broccoli. Chicken and broccoli and rice. And I was eating a lot of kangaroo, chili con kangaroo, spaghetti bowl o 'ro, kangaroo tacos.
Rip Esselstyn: I didn't even know you could eat kangaroo.
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. I ate so many kangaroos.
Rip Esselstyn: Taste like chicken?
Paul de Gelder: And so that was my life. And then people started coming into my life. John Joseph who is one of my very good friends, and I love him dearly, he has another friend in Australia a guy called Ian Norrington who's a-
Rip Esselstyn: I know Ian. You know Ian?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah.
Rip Esselstyn: [inaudible 00:31:27]?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. So he's a celebrity bodyguard, security guard, security specialist.
Rip Esselstyn: Good man.
Paul de Gelder: Big, scary, old school London gangster. And he just DMd me on social, media one day and was just saying, "Hey, you've got a great story and I love your profile. You could really make quite a difference if you went plant-based." And so it was kind of like one of the first times that I'd really seen those two words put together. And then it filed away in the back of my brain. And then I went to Africa to shoot a documentary with Damien Mander. He was a good friend of mine as well. And we both served in the Australian Navy together. And so one night around dinner after the end of a very long day, I was watching everyone cook their meals. And he was getting fed from a different pot to the rangers. And so I asked him about it. And he said, "Well, I don't eat meat. I'm vegan." And I said, "Well, what does that mean exactly?" And he said, "Well, I don't eat meat. I don't eat dairy." And I said, "Why? You're so huge. You're renownedly well-known for being a freaking monster in the Navy. Why do you do that?" Well, I can out here to protect the animals and I was eating the animals, and I felt like a hypocrite. And that was when it clicked.
And I realized that I hate hypocrites. I never want to be a hypocrite and I'm working partially in conservation to raise awareness about sharks and the oceans and the ecosystem. And yet, I'm eating all of those animals. That was when the dominoes started to fall in a sequence. And I went home and I started thinking very, very hard about it. But I didn't really know where to begin. And so I just went vegan basically. And that lasted three days. And I got really hungry. And I didn't know what else am I supposed to do.
And so I went back and just began eating animals for about another three months. And then Ian popped up again. John Joseph came into my life. And the vegan and the plant-based kept coming and coming and coming. And it was playing on my mind about being a hypocrite. And I hate hypocrites. I did not want to be that. I want to be the guy that sets the example for other people. So like I did with the sharks, I started learning.
We live in such an incredible age where we have the wealth of the world's knowledge within a few keystrokes. We can research anything now. It's not like the old days where you had to go down to the library and get out the microfish. We can just tap it in and up it pops. And so I learned all about it. And I discovered how big this was. And it just grew and grew in my mind not to just being a hypocrite but to having a compassionate role to all life to helping the environment on a larger scale because of the destruction from animal agriculture and watching Forks Over Knives, watching Cowspiracy, watching What the Health, watching all those things. And a lot of people nitpick things about all of those movies, but if even 2% of any of those movies was right, that's enough. And so that was it.
And I started slowly. I took out red meat. I never really had pork anyway because I didn't really like the taste. So I took out kangaroo, took out beef. Then chicken, then seafood. And eggs were like... I was lactose intolerant anyway. So the only thing I would do was eat ice cream occasionally and then suffer for it about 20 minutes later. So dairy wasn't a problem. And then eggs were like, "That was it? How am I going to give up the last bit of my protein?" And now they just kind of gross me out.
Rip Esselstyn: Very gross.
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. Really gross. And so it was a slow progression. I didn't rush myself. I did it when I was ready. But like a lot of people say it's not about perfection. It's about progression.
Rip Esselstyn: Tell me if you think this is an accurate analogy. Probably 99% the population of the world thinks that sharks are a menace. They're predators. They're incredibly scared of them, don't want them around. I'd say that 99% of the planet thinks that you can't get enough protein eating plants. I mean so I think would you say that these are equal miss that are both inaccurate?
Paul de Gelder: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There are so many preconceptions in our world because people find comfort in reproducing the information that they've been taught and they've grown up on because it's easy. It's so much easier to do that and believe that than it is to make up your own mind and do your own research.
Rip Esselstyn: You and I both come from kind of masculine careers. You were in the military. I was in firefighting for a while. Do the guys that you used to be with, your dive team with, do they embrace this plant-based thing? Do they think you're off your rocker? Do they make fun of you? If they do, what do you say to them?
Paul de Gelder: I get so much shit from my friends.
Rip Esselstyn: And how do you handle that?
Paul de Gelder: It doesn't worry me, because the proof is in the pudding. Let's be honest. I'm bigger and stronger than I've ever been in my life. I have no injuries. The only injury I've had is my left elbow and that is because I was getting into the shower on one leg, and I slipped, and I had to grab my whole body weight on the bar above the shower. And that's happened a lot of times. Sharks. I'm not afraid by dying from sharks. I'm afraid of dying by slipping on one leg in the shower. And so honestly the only injury I've had since I began. As soon as I began, no injuries whatsoever. No niggling injuries. I've been able to train to my heart's content. That is the most profound thing that I could say about turning plant-based. That and the fact that I feel good in my soul.
Rip Esselstyn: I was telling you a little earlier about Joe Inga, the firefighter from New York City Station 72. He's there with five other guys. They're obviously as you can imagine they're not necessarily supportive of him and his lifestyle. He obviously wants to fit in, right? Any advice for Joe as far as kind of going against the grain?
Paul de Gelder: Why would you want to fit in? If everyone was the same, it would be such a boring shit world. What's wrong with originality? What's wrong with doing your own thing? Some of my buddies take a piss out of me. Some of them have followed me into the plant-based lifestyle. Be the example that you want to set for yourself, your friends, your family, the wider audience that tunes in. There's nothing wrong than being different and following your own path. That will mean that you are literally your own person. Why would you want to be someone else?
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. There's a lot of people out there though that I don't think kind of have that maybe that inner tenacity. Instead they want to go along, right? They don't want to be different.
Paul de Gelder: They want to fit in. They want to have friends. And that's fine. That's fine. Everyone wants to have a good network of people around them and friends in life. The thing is they'll get used to it. After a while, it'll just be, oh, that's Joe. He's plant-based.
Rip Esselstyn: [inaudible 00:39:32].
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. He can't come to ribs and burgers with us. But whatever, we still do things together.
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. I mean Joe he's overweight by about 50 pounds headed towards prediabetes, diabetes.
Paul de Gelder: This is where he gets to change it all.
Rip Esselstyn: Change it all.
Paul de Gelder: And set the example for all of his mates. Be the light you want to see in other people.
Rip Esselstyn: Do you feel like... And I know the answer here, but do you feel like going plant-strong for the last four years you have in any way sacrificed your manliness?
Paul de Gelder: Not even a little bit. No.
Rip Esselstyn: Has it been enhanced?
Paul de Gelder: I feel like it has because I don't see the active... I don't see the active eating the meat that some long distant person has slaughtered that was a slave as being manly. I see that as being weak and cowardly. And that's not me judging people. But that's just how I feel about the way that I used to be. And people go out and hunt, but I don't see the point. The thing is it's unnecessary. That's it. There's nothing more to it. You might like hunting. You might like eating that meat that you've caught yourself. But it's just not necessary for 99.9% of the world. We did it in the olden days and whenever because we had to to survive. We don't have to do it anymore. So I don't. I choose not to. I don't see it as being unmanly. I see being the protector and the servant and the person with compassion as being manly and masculine.
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. And as we just talked about to me being manly is doing the right thing. It's actually if you need to it's going against the grain. And it's not being a follower. And it's standing up for everything you believe in.
Paul de Gelder: Yeah. 100%.
Rip Esselstyn: I'm wondering though do you have just good days and great days or do you have bad days where you're like... Or are you just like, "Oh, my god. I've been given a second chance at life. And every minute of every day is precious and I'm hanging onto it."
Paul de Gelder: I wish it was like that. Hell, no. No. Not at all. I'm not always motivated. Internally I'm always happy. But that doesn't always shine through. Sometimes I wouldn't say depressed, but occasionally I just get a little down. And one of the greatest things one of my buddies told me when I was in hospital was never feel bad about feeling bad. There's nothing wrong with it. We all do. Just don't let it ruin your day, your week, or your whole life. Feel bad, work out why, fix it, go do something that changes that, that flips it on its head. And go on and live your life and be happy. And so that really, really stuck with me.
Because once again, it comes down to that choice. So I choose to just let myself get pissed off sometimes and angry and sad and what have you. What would life be if we didn't get to enjoy the full spectrum of the human emotion? It's a ride. It's not supposed to be up all the time. Where's the fun in that? You got to have the dips. You got to have the troughs. So just feel things. And learning that has helped me immensely in my public speaking, because I get to share all of those emotions that I was really burying down in the military. Now they've come out I've learned to embrace them and share them. And that's taken my public speaking to a whole other level.
Rip Esselstyn: Well, showing your vulnerability that's a whole other strength, right?
Paul de Gelder: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rip Esselstyn: And I mean that's something that a lot of people have fear of, right? Showing your weakness and your vulnerability. And you sharing that right now. I mean that's a message that I think a lot of people will find comfort in, right?
Paul de Gelder: I think we need to understand a lot of the time that the little box of beliefs that we have aren't always right. We get formed in a certain way from being young people and sometimes we put these little beliefs about who we are and who we should be a little higher on a pedestal than we should. It's okay to just open up that box and let some of that shit out, because it's not always right. We get to learn who we are over the years and develop that person, instead of just being this same stagnant person throughout this. There's no growth. There's no reward. There's nothing in that.
Rip Esselstyn: You've obviously experienced a shit ton of growth. And probably it's coming at you so fast right now. It's probably a little bit mind numbing.
Paul de Gelder: I love it. I love it.
Rip Esselstyn: That's fantastic.
Paul de Gelder: It's so good.
Rip Esselstyn: I mean who would have thought, especially you, that you'd be the host of Shark Week, right? That you'd be teaching Will Smith how to deal with sharks. That you'd be on a show that's up for a Bogey Award, right?
Paul de Gelder: Logie.
Rip Esselstyn: Logie. Logie.
Paul de Gelder: It sounds like the Australian version of the Emmy's. Yeah, though too though I haven't acted in my life. My second day acting I had to do a full nude Magic Mike strip show in front of like the whole cast and crew and 30 screwing actors.
Rip Esselstyn: Was that recently?
Paul de Gelder: Yeah, that was last year. I gave myself g-string rope burn between my ass cheeks ripping off my g-string 12 times on stage. That was what I was afraid of. Stripping on stage. But it's just because I've embraced all of that stuff and I've allowed myself to grow through strength and through vulnerability, my life is just expanded beyond anything I've thought it could have been.
Rip Esselstyn: Thank you for joining me today. I hope you feel inspired to face your fears, create change, adopt a plant-strong lifestyle, and pursue your dreams.
I want to thank my co-creator of the podcast, Scott Battishill and 10% Media, Laurie Kortowhich producer extraordinaire and Engine 2 director of events. Ami Mackey, the curator of all the creative content for Engine 2 and Hereby for content production. Brandon Curtis for everything in between. I want to thank Whole Foods Market for giving me a platform for the last 10 years and for believing me. Special thanks to Joe Inga for your courage to take control and change your life and for allowing us to share your story along the way. And lastly I want to thank my father and mother Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. and Ann Crile Esselstyn. I also need to thank all the plant-strong pioneers who have been pushing this huge boulder uphill for more than three decades. As they say, we are standing on the shoulder of giants. If you're digging the show, please rate us on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Peace, Engine 2, keep it plant-strong.