Vegetarian Action
Jane Black: Champion Weightlifter and Vegan Activist
By Davida Gypsy Breier

Jane Black has set numerous Master's National and World records in weightlifting, and in the process has shattered the stereotype of the "frail vegan." In 1983, she met John Coffee, a gym owner interested in establishing a women's Olympic weightlifting team to participate in national competitions. The first women's weightlifting nationals had been held the previous year. Jane passed Joe's screening test and three months later competed in her first national meet. At the age of 31, she placed 5th, and her team won the women's title.
Jane became a vegan in 1990. She had been open to the idea, and was further influenced by her girlfriend, Stephanie Miller, an animal artist who has been vegan for more than 25 years. Jane says that, "… for me, reading literature on the dairy industry produced more disgust than killing an animal outright. To me, the dairy industry, coupled with the veal industry, is one of the most embarrassing things human beings participate in." She expresses a great love for animals and shares her home with her best friend Colleene, a 10-year-old tri-colored collie. Jane believes, "If I am anything of worth for this earth, it is to be nice to other animals."
Of her many Master's National and World records Jane explains, "Since the official weight categories have been changed a couple of times, the world records I hold can never be broken … The last time I competed in the Master's World Weightlifting Championships, in Canada in 1996, I won my class and received the Best Lifter trophy for my age group, 40-44." Her personal record competitive lifts are a 65 kilo (143 lb.) snatch and an 82.5 kilo (181½ lb.) clean and jerk. At 47, Jane hopes to go to Glasgow, Scotland to compete in the Master's Weight-lifting World Championships. Jane continues, "I am currently ranked as number one on the US Women's National Team. I plan to do well, and I hope, set records and win a best lifter award. As my heritage is Scottish, I have always dreamed of going there, and this seems like a perfect reason." (Unfortunately, she suffered a back injury in mid-June and it was unclear at press time if she would be able to compete.)
Working through The Vegetarian Resource Group, Jane has been helping other athletes interested in becoming vegan or vegetarian. For the past two years, inquiries regarding weightlifting and related sports have been referred to her. She enthusiastically answers questions and discusses her experiences as a vegan competitive athlete, offering another voice to counter dietary myths and similar misconceptions facing athletes.
Many athletes are concerned about adequate protein intake. Explaining her experiences, Jane says, "According to various elite weightlifting coaches, the protein requirement for a highly competitive weightlifter is 2 to 2½ grams per kilo of bodyweight. If I adhered to that, I would be eating about 150 or so grams of protein, which I feel is ridiculous. I eat probably about 60-75. I have never had a problem building strength. The variables for strength building vary greatly for individuals-genetics, general state of health, and training program. All of these factors and more must be monitored ongoingly if a person wants to take on a sport, or build strength or explosive power, which Olympic lifting is all about. I fully believe that a person can be incredibly strong as a vegan. If you are going for a bodybuilder 'look,' i.e., extreme hypertrophy, low body fat, a vegan diet will have its drawbacks, but then I would challenge you to ask yourself why that is important to you. Most of the pictures of contest-ready bodybuilders on popular magazines [used] a ton of unnatural and pathological dietary practices to achieve that look."
As for her diet Jane says, "I do not organize my diet around protein content. Tofu is on the scene with great regularity. I am not a big salad person. For grains, organic brown rice leads the way. I try to vary vegetables. I guess if there is one thing I try to do more than anything it is to include a dark green leafy vegetable once a day or so. I love Boca Burgers, which are great if you want protein, low in fat, and carbohydrates. Apples are the main fruit I eat. I do drink a lot of water."
Non-leather shoes and accessories are another concern for vegan and vegetarian athletes in many sports. The Vegetarian Resource Group publishes "A Shopper's Guide To Leather Alternatives" to help consumers find other options. The guide includes information on non-leather running shoes and baseball gloves, and the next update will include information on vegan bowling shoes. Jane has not been able to find non-leather weightlifting shoes, commenting, "… when I started lifting I used leather weightlifting shoes. Shoes designed specifically for weightlifting are surprisingly important to balance and stability. Three years ago, I ritualistically buried my Italian weightlifting shoes and belt and began to train in non-leather shoes, non-weightlifting shoes also. Six months ago, after a persistent foot problem, I made the decision to train in lifting shoes that contain leather. There is no synthetic shoe available. Adidas, which supplies more weightlifting shoes than any other manufacturer, has not produced a vegan-friendly model. Although I am not happy about my choices, this sport has been a big part of my life for many years, and I feel that I do good in the world representing a vegan lifestyle as a strength athlete. I mean, somebody's got to do it, and it might as well be me! I encourage everyone who reads this article to write Adidas and express your interest in the production of a non-leather lifting shoe."
Currently Jane is in the process of publishing her first novel. This multitalented woman also enjoys playing the drums. We wish her a full and speedy recovery and hope she makes it to the Master's Weightlifting World Championships in Scotland!
If you would like to contact Adidas to persuade them to consider producing a non-leather weightlifting shoe, their toll-free number is 1-(800)-448-1796. You can also email them at For more information on A Shopper's Guide to Leather Alternatives visit our guide on the VRG website or see the catalog.
Excerpts from the Jan/Feb Issue