GLENDALE, Ariz. (KSAZ) - When people think of top-notch athletes, vegans generally don't come to mind.
That notion, however, is about to change, as an athlete that has excelled in several different sports over the last two decades has a diet that is anything but main stream.
Nestled in a Glendale industrial park is a diamond in the rough that continues to shine, no matter the sport.
"I was high school all-American basketball player," said Vanessa Espinoza.
After a full ride and colorful career at University of Colorado, the pros came calling.
"After college, I got drafted by the Indiana Fever, WNBA," said Espinoza.
A basketball career, however, had to take a time out after Espinoza's father, an accomplished boxer, passed away.
"So, kinda changed my life little bit," said Espinoza.
Along with a life change came a sport change as well.
"After my basketball career, I got into boxing because of my dad," said Espinoza. "My dad and my uncle and my grandpa were all professional fighters. So I got into boxing, and became a three-time Colorado Golden Glove state champion."
Nowadays, power lifting is Espinoza's passion. She broke two state records in her first meet, bench-pressing 226 lbs, and squatting another 319 lbs.
"I did really well," said Espinoza. "You have to get 875 to become a professional or elite. I think my first competition, I got 930, I believe, and it totals the weight, squat, bench and deadlift."
Perhaps an even greater achievement is that Espinoza accomplished all that, with a plant-based. 100% vegan diet.
"I've been a vegan for 17 years," said Espinoza. "I decided to go vegan for my love of animals. My decision was easy to go vegan, and when I became vegan, my workouts were better. My recovery was better. Everything was better. It was just amazing."
Espinoza said it's all about changing one's thinking.
"Number one question people ask: hey, where do you get your protein?" said Espinoza. "I always say, 'the same place your proteins get theirs'. A cow doesn't eat meat. An elephant doesn't eat meat."
Getting people to change their thinking, however, can be as daunting as a deadlift. Espinoza has heard all of the stereotypical criticisms.
"Oh, you're gonna lose all of your muscle mass," said Espinoza, recounting the criticisms she heard. "There's no way you're gonna become a high-performance athlete, being vegan. And it was just the exact opposite, and I haven't looked back since."
Now, Espinoza has written a book about vegan diets. She said she spent 2.5 years writing it with Robert Cheeke.
"Basically, it's our perspective on how we train, how we eat, in male and female's perspective," said Espinoza. "We've got workout programs, muscle building, fat burning."
There is also information that might surprise a reader, such as different diets and lots of options for protein.
"There's so many fruits and vegetables and so many awesome vegan products," said Espinoza. "There's fake vegan meats now, if you like a hot dog or a hamburger or anything you can eat, I can eat vegan. I mean, you don't have to give up anything."
One thing that's helping the veganism movement might be Vanessa, as people look at her and say they want to look like that.
"Vanessa's, like, the perfect poster child for the movement, because she has built a world-class physique, and also world-class accomplishments to back it up, and has been doing it for almost two full decades, no animal products at all, and has a heart as big as her muscles." said Cheeke.
I just want to help people, you know," said Espinoza. "As many people spreading the word, and just helping people do better. That was what I feel like I was put on this earth to do."