It’s hard to imagine that an Olympic gold medalist foodie who has apprenticed in the kitchens of some of the world’s top chefs could relate to the quotidian challenges faced by regular folk. But Austin-based elite swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale, who took home two gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics—even after being diagnosed with high blood pressure—hopes that his website and blog can help people with their own day-to-day health and fitness concerns.
“I think a lot of times, people look at Olympic athletes and think, Oh, that person’s just super-gifted; they never had to work for it,” says Weber-Gale. “That’s totally not true for me. I’ve had a lot of hardships that everyday people have, and I’m just a normal guy trying to help people through what I’ve learned.”
Indeed, in 2005 (just one year after failing to qualify for the Olympics by one place), the 20-year-old swimmer experienced a rude awakening when a routine checkup revealed his blood pressure to be so high that doctors said he was at risk of having a stroke or heart attack. “I was just so determined to figure this out,” Weber-Gale says. “So I started seeing a nutritionist and figured out what I needed to eat. But the problem was, I couldn’t cook anything.”
Initially, there were what Weber-Gale refers to as “epic failures” in the kitchen, including the time the swimmer attempted to re-create a honey-seared chicken recipe. “The grill was smoking like crazy,” he recalls. “The chicken breasts were just completely charred from the honey, and that’s when I realized sugar does burn very easily.”
Despite these frustrations, Weber-Gale took lessons and soon developed such a passion for cooking that he sought out, and secured, highly coveted culinary apprenticeships at top restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen. “I’m constantly excited when I’m cooking,” he says. “It was a stress reliever in college, and I fell in love with food and cooking, and it was around that point that I realized I needed to help other people learn how to make delicious foods healthy and help them realize they can have a better life through better nutrition.” What’s more, after turning his diet around, Weber-Gale went on to break the American records for both the 50- and 100-meter freestyles in the Olympic trials before winning his two gold medals.
These days, Weber-Gale shares part of his passion through AthleticFoodie—a family-run business that offers advice from a range of experts, such as physical therapists, nutritionists, sports psychologists and even an orthopedic surgeon. He also blogs about everything from his favorite savory red-bean recipe to the importance of getting daily sunlight and setting goals. His mom, Diane Weber, who embraced fitness and a modified vegan diet three years ago to overcome her own health concerns, also shares her personal journey. “She’s done a whole transformation under Garrett’s influence and with his support,” says Garrett’s sister, Hillary Weber-Gale, who serves as AthleticFoodie’s creative director.
All members of this tight-knit family help out with their different skills: Hillary has an art background, Diane coordinates bloggers and Garrett’s dad, Mark Gale, provides business advice. Yet Diane says AthleticFoodie is all about her son’s quest to help people live a healthier life. “We all contribute, but there’s no question that he’s the heart and soul of the company,” she says. “He has unbridled passion for everything he does. Very few people could compete with his energy, his belief in himself…and in other people.”—Nicole Lessin