Known as Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian curls beer kegs, tosses washing machines and lifts cars for fun. But there’s something even more surprising about him: the bodybuilder is a vegan.
At 1.71 meters and 140 kilograms, or 309 pounds, Mr. Baboumian radically defies the typical notion that athletes need animal protein to have enough energy to compete. For the last five years, he has lived without eating animal products.
The 37-year-old likes to train at Berlin Strength, a gym owned by a friend and fellow vegan that’s located between techno clubs and concert halls in the German capital’s Friedrichshain district. Sitting outside on a tractor tire, he’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Vegan badass.” He sells the t-shirts online. But the message belies the fact that he’s actually a bit of a softie.
The Armenian-German always loved animals, he says, telling the story of how he once spent a day rescuing tadpoles from a puddle. He’d already been a vegetarian for years when a “crisis of conscience” in 2011 led him to go a step further and become a vegan and spare animals from suffering.
“Would I slaughter that chicken myself?” he asked himself. The answer was no, and putting a drumstick on his plate would have been “simply dishonest.”
The unexpected choice made him something of a celebrity. In November of that year he went on to become the front man for a pro-vegan ad campaign by animal rights group PETA. He also wrote a book called “Vrebellion-I,” in which he outlines his approach to veganism, complete with recipes.
“To live as vegan does not mean the sacrifice of our typical diet as much as it means a newly discovered lust for life and well-being through an overall healthier diet that does not place a burden on the body and brings a brand new awareness of life,” the book’s online description says.
“One doesn’t do something like that with the intention of making it into a business model,” he says, explaining that a good decision simply had good consequences. He had no idea that his veganism would be of such interest to the public, he adds.
“My wife said I was crazy,” he says. But as a world record-breaking strongman competitor, he knew that his prominence as an athlete could influence many people with his lifestyle choice.
Born in Armenia and raised in the central German city of Fulda, Mr. Baboumian has been a weightlifter since age 15. He studied psychology, sport and sociology, and also wrote a book about weight training.
When he speaks of the sport, he refers to “primal instincts” that involve the ability to move enormous loads or fight off an attack. But training is also a time for reflection and living in the moment, he says.
“I make my body a slave to my mind,” he says.
This article originally appeared in Handelsblattt’s sister publication Der Tagesspiegel, a Berlin-based daily. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org