MaryJo Cooke Elliott is the only vegan IFBB pro bikini competitor. With 12 years of experience, MaryJo has competed in Figure and Bikini divisions at the pro level.
Before becoming vegan, MaryJo had battled severe, life-threatening health and medical issues. She regained her health, worked for her award-winning physique and now enjoys helping other people reach their health and fitness goals.
Areas of Expertise: Bodybuilding, Cleansing, Nutrition, Raw Food, Toning, Weight Loss
Services: Consulting, Meal Planning, Personal Training, Coaching
Credentials: AED, American Red Cross, CPR, American Red Cross, CrossFit Certificate Holder, Professional Athlete, SSC Health Sciences, SSC Kinesiology
Availability: In person, No vegan health and fitness services available., Online, Phone
Initially I made the decision to go Vegan for health reasons. I had been struggling with numerous medical issues and being at the mercy of doctors and medications made me feel helpless. I was desperate to regain control over my life and turned to a raw, plant-based diet. There was no transition, I simply became Vegan. There was however an evolution that took place as I navigated a nutritional philosophy that was so foreign to my sports nutrition mentality. Turning to books, blogs and videos for support and guidance, I discovered that Veganism wasn’t just about eating plants. It was also about not eating animals. This realization had a profound effect on me. Yes, my reasons for becoming Vegan were health driven, however I AM VEGAN for the animals.
The only difficult part for me has been coping with the shame and heart ache of not becoming a Vegan sooner. It makes it makes me physically ill to reflect on my denial and ignorance. Sitting here now I can remember the exact moment in my childhood when I realized animals were eaten as food. I still feel that instant horror and an immediate need to protect and save animals from not only death, but from physical and emotional harm. I was constantly troubled about even the tiniest creature being scared, having their feelings hurt, injury and death. But, at some point I learned to compartmentalize or rationalize that pets were animals and meat/dairy was food. As an adult this perspective was further reinforced by a belief that optimal nutrition, especially as an athlete required an increased need for protein. I dutifully purchased my protein from the grocery store and consumed all manner of animal products in my quest for optimal fitness… I never considered by what means my protein arrived at the store and I was ignorant to the horrific realities of factory farming. “If I only knew then what I know now…”
What are you waiting for? “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do…” Much gratitude goes to Mark Twain for this quote as I often reference it to my own life and journey to Veganism. I’m a very open and passionate person and I find that sharing my journey can be a powerful tool in supporting and inspiring others. Curiosity is a beautiful opportunity to share the many paths that can lead to a Vegan lifestyle and I seize these moments with great care. My approach in presenting and educating someone who’s considering Veganism is to connect with the individual on a level that’s equal with their curiosity. Walking with someone on their path allows me to guide them and encourage them in a manner that’s consistent to where they are in their journey. As a professional athlete and model, I also have the great joy in sharing my passion for Veganism with the unsuspecting every time I’m stopped for advice on nutrition or fitness! I absolutely love these moments because it allows me an opportunity to inspire and create awareness in strangers.
I believe in supporting and promoting the efforts of all Organizations that fight to end, rescue, rehabilitate, educate and bring awareness to the horrors, injustice, abuse and neglect that animals experience. I support and am grateful for the efforts of: PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine); ALV (Animal Liberation Victoria), PETA; ASPCA; Farm Sanctuary; Compassion Over Killing; Free from Harm; Hope for Paws and The Gentle Barn. However, I am also so terribly grateful for each and every individual who chooses to live a life free from harm. Even in the most simple action or decision, a life is saved, awareness is created, resources are persevered and optimal health can be achieved.
My husband and I financially contribute to various organizations (see above) in an effort to support their work and mission. I also attend and participate in meet ups, events, classes, seminars and fundraisers to promote animals rights and Veganism. However, I feel my greatest impact comes from my credentials (Professional Athlete, Model, Educator, Vegan and Advocate) and my ability to motivate, educate and inspire others to a life of awareness, action and Veganism.
From an early age I have always related to and had a deep connection with animals. For this reason alone I have an endless list of memories and experiences where animals and their lives were a focal point in mine. Animals were at many times my escape. In their presence I felt a connection to something greater than myself, a sense of peace, understanding, acceptance and love. It was the animals in my life that provided me with the simple, yet greatest emotional connections I needed, yet the adults in my life we incapable of giving.
My early childhood was spent in a rural part of Sonoma County, Ca. near a large dairy farm so I was surrounded by both domestic and farm animals. We were very poor and at this point in my life I had yet to make the connection between the animals around me and their fate. My first realization and horror came while at a neighbor’s house where I would conveniently finds myself around meal times. I was in the kitchen watching eggs being cracked into a mixing bowl when a bloody, dead baby chick fell out. I was horrified and left in tears. I remember feeling panicked and that I needed to save all the baby chicks that were sad and freezing cold from being kept in the fridge. The next day I went back to the neighbor’s house asking to borrow all of her eggs because we didn’t have any. I took the eggs and ran to an old abandoned chicken coop in a field near my house I placed the eggs into nests so they could hatch. I covered the eggs with straw and checked on them several times a day for weeks, but of course they never hatched.
Sitting here now I’m flooded with a lifetime of memories where my compassion for animals, their physical and emotional wellbeing has been critical to my own sense of worth. It’s not just the physical harm or injustice that animals experience; it’s also the emotional abuse and neglect that causes my soul to ache. A life free from harm, health and happiness, a simple right deserved by all.