By Rich Roll
400 pp. Harmony. $17.00.
As a highly functional alcoholic, Rich Roll maintained some semblance of success in his young adult years (graduating from Stanford and Cornell Law). Then, in his early professional career, Roll’s ability to keep his alcoholism in check became undone. Whether it be prison, homelessness, or even death, every possible outcome was plausible. However, for Roll, this precarious position wasn’t always the norm. True, when he reflects upon his formative years, he refers to himself as an awkward child. Friendless and nonathletic, he was cross-eyed, and as such wore an eye patch in an effort to correct the condition. A sense of early salvation does arrive, courtesy the pool. Swimming is Roll’s natural physical talent. He was spurned by his school’s social scene and lacked any desire to assuage the matter. Instead, Roll choose to be all-consumed by his studies and swimming. It was strictly, “…studying, sleeping, training, and racing.” This dedication culminated in acceptances from the likes of Harvard and Princeton. However, he would ultimately be swayed by Stanford’s palm trees, despite the university offering no swim scholarship (instead, “walk-on” status). Notably, it was this time in Roll’s life that would mark the beginning of his near total downfall.
Alcohol. Roll receives an introduction to it while touring colleges on swim-related recruiting trips. He embraced it’s effects. Drinking puts him at ease. The social awkwardness that had always been a part of Roll’s existence vanishes. Of course, the rigors of maintaining Stanford’s studies and swim athletics, with a steady reliance on the bottle proves a poor mix. A week before his first Stanford swim meet, an inebriated Roll breaks 2 ribs while leaping over rain-slicked aluminum bleachers at a Stanford football game. He summons the strength to still compete in the meet, and competes well. However, for Roll, it’s the beginning of the end. Ultimately, he drops off the swim team, yet still manages to graduate. Now, largely listless in life, Roll follows his father’s career path as a lawyer. Lacking any enthusiasm for it, his next step was paralegal work in New York City. Roll’s lack of fondness for the job doesn’t deter him from applying, and being accepted to, Cornell Law School. (A brief segue here. Roll is clearly highly intelligent. “Finding Ultra”, which he authored, is fundamentally well written.) No surprise, even with with his demons in tow, Roll also manages to graduate from Cornell. Throughout it all, he describes himself as a “…drunken wanderlust”.
The subsequent years, marked by boorish drunken behavior (ie, poor job performance, multiple DWIs, etc.), take their toll and Roll hits rock bottom. He cycles thru Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with fleeting success. Finally, his father calls him out, demanding he see a psychologist. Ultimately, this puts Roll on a path to healthy living. He enlists for an extended stay in a treatment facility, getting his life in order. Then, seeking happiness, Roll quits his job, sets up his own law practice, and finds true love (“Julie”). What follows next is an even more remarkable transformation. With his alcoholism in check, poor life choices remain. Namely, his subpar diet and lack of exercise. A moment of fear ensnares him (gasping for air while simply climbing steps), setting off what can best be described as a rebirth. Roll goes on to become, as he describes, entirely “Plantplowered”, as well as a x2 Ultraman Finisher. Roll also accomplishes what’s described as the EPIC5 (5 Hawaiian-based Ironman triathlon finishes in less than 7 days). In no way should my lack of deep dive into these accomplishments take away from their grandeur. Amazing feats to say the least.
Constructive criticism? The reader is expected to take a considerable leap. What I mean is, the book evolves from Roll, having access to great resources in his young life to do great things only to come up markedly short, to his basically re-branding himself as a life-coach. A sense of preaching occurs in the book’s later pages. Eat only plants. Shoot your TV. Do only what you love and have faith everything will work itself out. Replace self-seeking acts with servitude. That said, give Roll credit. First, for providing full disclosure into his unfortunate past, then eliciting what can best be described as opting in for the cleanest possible lifestyle. It deserves acknowledgement, if we were all to embrace Roll’s present day life choices, the world would be a better place.
#DidYouKnow courtesy “Finding Ultra”: While once embarking on a 130-mile bicycle ride at 4 AM, Roll nearly froze due to a lack of proper cold weather gear, as well as becoming delirious, a result of miscalculating caloric intake. His sad state was cemented with an overdrawn ATM card. Without the necessary supplies he was forced to dumpster-dive behind a restaurant, eating old, half-eaten fries, onion rings, and cheeseburgers. (The precariousness of his position deserves consideration, given Roll’s strict vegan diet.)
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