January 31, 2023



Lewes’s Katie Rood: ‘I’d wake feeling like a zombie and struggle to get up’ | Football

5 min read

“I have gone from five years of continuous injuries to five years with almost nothing,” says Katie Rood. The change? In 2015 the New Zealand international and Lewes forward switched to a vegan diet. “The longest injury I’ve had since then was three weeks out with a hamstring earlier this season,” she remarks.

“It blew me away. I thought I was going to feel depleted and sick. I used to finish a game on a Sunday and have a heat pack on my shoulder, ice packs on my ankles, I’d wake up on Monday feeling like a zombie. Getting out of bed was a struggle. Fast forward to two weeks after giving up meat, dairy, eggs and I was leaping out of bed. I felt two inches taller. I realised how inflamed I was everywhere, and that inflammation was gone.”

The effect on her ability to recover fast had an effect on the pitch. “Because I could recover quicker I could train harder. So I started hitting the gym really hard and got so much stronger, which made me faster, which made me make better decisions on the pitch because I was fitter. It helped everything.”

It is fitting that when we first talk, pre-isolation, and discuss the merits of veganism we do so in a vegetarian and vegan restaurant where the food is so inventive that you can wholeheartedly buy into the absence of meat. The menu contrasts starkly with Rood’s experience growing up, when she felt, as an aspiring athlete, trapped by a belief that meat and dairy were vital to a healthy diet.

“We grew up surrounded by animals, and I loved every single one of them,” she says. “I never wanted to eat them. My mum used to cut up my meat and hide it under my vegetables and stuff. It didn’t occur to them that it was healthy for me not to be [eating meat] because I wanted to be an athlete as well. It just got reiterated from such a young age that if you want to be an athlete you need to eat these animals, drink your milk, get your calcium and things like that. I struggled with it a lot.”

The film Earthlings, which explores the use of animals as pets, for science, for clothing and for food and is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, triggered change quite brutally. “It ripped me apart to realise that I had been contributing to that. It destroyed me. From then I was like: ‘OK, no more eating animals; it’s cool, I can do that.’”

Katie Rood in action for Lewes against Arsenal in February.

Katie Rood in action for Lewes against Arsenal in February. Photograph: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo/Rex/Shutterstock

As well as benefiting physically, Rood found the psychological effect was massive. It made her question and reassess the world, society and its constructs. “If I’ve been told that I need meat and milk to be a healthy athlete and I’ve found the complete opposite to be true then what else have I been lied to about? And why don’t we know this?”

Rood has embraced the example she can set as one of an increasing number of vegan athletes. She determined not to be preachy but says: “That’s been a journey in and of itself, learning how to communicate with people on it, because it’s a sensitive subject.”

When the subject is raised of how she, as an environmentalist, justifies flying around the world for her club football or for the New Zealand national team, a slightly pained expression tells of the battle that rages within her. “I try use my platform as much as possible to bring awareness and help people realise and change positively for the environment.” She knows she is justifying it and she does make sacrifices – she remained in England over Christmas – but tries to think bigger picture with football. “Obviously the better I do with the national team the better the profile I have. It’s a constant battle though. I always thought football would be a vehicle to see the world and now it’s my vehicle to try and save the world.”

Constantly grappling for solutions, she wonders whether clubs could commit to creating a “football forest” by planting trees to offset their flight emissions.

A desire to be an active participant in changing things drew her towards the Extinction Rebellion protests. “It turned out to be a life-changing experience,” she says. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever participated in. Within minutes they had set up whole communities in the streets in London.”

She is proud of what it has achieved, the way it has changed the narrative around climate change. “It was full-on. It made a difference right? We weren’t really talking about climate change beforehand. It’s a start.”

Katie Rood says the Extinction Rebellion protests were ‘a life-changing experience’.

Katie Rood says the Extinction Rebellion protests were ‘a life-changing experience’. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Adapting to isolation has been hard, she says, in a catch-up. Stuck in England, Rood has constructed a makeshift gym and garden pitch to try to maintain some level of training.

The harder part, she says, with Covid-19 and Sars apparently having some connection to markets where live and dead animals are sold, is that such pandemics may have stemmed from human exploitation of animals.

“It’s hard to bring that up as a discussion point in a way that’s really sensitive and understanding of the grief and trauma and stress that people are under. So mostly I’ve kept quiet about that, it’s not really the time or place, but I don’t know when we’re ever going to find a better one. It would maybe be too much of a stretch to say it doesn’t happen in a world where we don’t eat animals but I think the key is that this crisis was predicted and more are predicted if we continue to eat and treat animals the way that we do.

“We create the perfect environment for diseases in the way we treat animals. It’s a hard one to discuss with people but hopefully I’ll figure it out.”

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It is has also made her reflect on possible changes to the relationship between society and nature. “I think it’s going to be quite profound in that a lot of people are connecting with nature for the first time, or the first time in a while, and in a way in which they haven’t before and that’s exciting and powerful,” she says.

“You see the images of people in India seeing the Himalayas for the first time from their cities because the smog has pretty much lifted. Imagine waking up one day and being able to see the greatest mountain range on earth and realising that it’s because of human activity that you couldn’t?

“That’s got to be a pretty heavy shift for a lot of people. I don’t think you can deny things like that. This is happening all across the globe where we’re seeing air pollution disperse. I’m not entirely sure how that will manifest but I hope it connects people, organisations and our day-to-day actions to the environment.”

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