Team USA's Kendrick Farris has the weight of a nation on his shoulders at the Olympics this summer, but he doesn't hold it the way you might expect.
Farris was the lone American male weightlifter to qualify for the 2016 Games, but that's far from the only thing to make him unique. In a sport dominated by "meathead" stereotypes, Farris bucks the trend altogether: He has a completely vegan diet.
The 30-year-old Farris only recently adopted this strategy, having completed the first six years of his professional career without such dietary restrictions. But in late 2014, he revealed his change to the world with this Facebook post, later citing the birth of his son as the catalyst of his unprecedented adjustment:
"I really don't know what happened to me," Farris told KTBS earlier this year about the change. "My son was born almost two years ago; he was born in September 2014 and something happened where I was like, 'I'm just seeing the whole thing.' So I'm like, 'I need to do something different.' Like how do you get back to what is the most purest form of our life, our being, and it started with the food."
Farris isn't quite the only vegan athlete in a heavily strength-based sport, with American boxer Cam F. Awesome and German strongman Patrik Baboumian serving as some other contemporary high-profile examples. But that doesn't mean that Farris was exempt from criticism of his abrupt change by any means.
"I remember when I first told my wife, she laughed at me because she didn't think I was serious," Farris told KTBS. "So I was like, 'Nah, I'm serious.' I'm not eating any more of this, that and the third and I've just been sticking to it ever since."
If any people were questioning Farris' dietary habits at first, his performances in recent years have certainly put those doubts to rest. Originally competing in the 85-kilogram weight class, Farris placed in eighth at the 2008 Olympics before falling to 10th place in the same class four years later in London.
But Farris has since bulked up to the 94-kilogram group, becoming the face of an American weightlifting program that has seen some tremendous struggles in recent years. Team USA hasn't seen any medalist in a weightlifting event since 2000, with the last male medalists coming back in 1984 in Guy Carlton and Mario Martinez.
More recently, Team USA came in 25th place in combined men's points at the 2014 and 2015 world championships – a ridiculously agonizing result because each of the top 24 nations earned three automatic male spots for this summer's Olympics.
Fortunately, Farris has taken matters into his own hands in 2016. In May, Farris set the American record in combined weight in the snatch and clean-and-jerk events with this impressive 377-kg output at the U.S. Olympic Trials:
From there, Farris handled business at Pan-American Championships, where he took first place in his division at 364-kg to secure the lone male Olympic spot awarded to Team USA.
The Louisiana native still has his hands full with the upcoming Olympic competition on August 13th – his seasonal best set in May ranks 11th in the world in the 94-kg weight class, and the same mark would've placed 12th at both the 2012 and 2008 Olympics.
But even if he ultimately comes up short in his quest to become the nation's first male medalist in 32 years, the journey has been a rewarding one for the innovative competitor.
"I mean I'm not going to change, I'll feel the same way I feel at this moment right now," he said. "Just to win it ... I guess to have it, you can be like, 'Well that's a lot of hard work, and you were able to achieve one of your goals.' Is it a goal of mine to medal? It is, but at the end of the day, I feel like I already won."
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