Brian Pace is a Renaissance Man. He’s won over 18 National Titles in table tennis, is the highest ranked African American in the history of US Table Tennis, coached players to national titles and is a competitive cyclist and cycling coach. He’s also the author of ten books on the subjects of juicing, cycling and table tennis.
RR: How did you get your start in table tennis?
Brian Pace: The “Nike” of table tennis was in my home town. Some people came to our school and put on exhibition and told us that if we wanted to learn more to come down to the table tennis center. I was mesmerized by the yellow balls and all the stuff they were doing. That basically put me on an important pipeline.
I quickly became one of the top players, and the Olympic Training Center called me and wanted me to leave North Carolina to train in Colorado Springs.
My mother was against it at first. She didn’t understand. The people from the Olympic Training Center told her that ‘I was first in my age category and had only been playing for a couple of years. Everyone else in the program had been playing for nine years. I was one of the most improved players in history.’
She still said no. I did everything in my power to change her mind. They flew her out and showed her the facility. The Olympic Training Center was a place where the best athletes in the country–Carl Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya, Shaq–all came to train. That’s when my mom realized that this was really an impressive opportunity for me.
It was a little bit of a ground-shaker. I kind of lost my footing. I wasn’t ready. Imagine if you’re playing basketball and suddenly everyone wants you on their team. And then when they get you on the team, they ask if you can dunk and you’re like ‘I never said I could dunk.’ I didn’t really know what getting involved in that program meant.
We’d have to get up at six in the morning to train before going to school until 2:45 and then train until 5:30 at night. I had never trained at high altitudes before. I’d run twenty-five feet and get exhausted. The Olympic program had a sharp trajectory, but that’s one of the reasons why I chose to do it.
RR: What is the world of professional international table tennis like?
BP: Table tennis is pretty hot from an international standpoint. I’m more well-known in other countries. If I go there for a tournament, they say that’s the American dude, that’s the black dude. I lived in Europe for three years. I had a pretty good lifestyle.
You get a lot of free stuff from the sponsors there. The sponsors will set you up with a car and an apartment and food at the grocery store. You may only make like 40 k a year, but you get 30 k in perks. You travel seventy miles to play a team, and then the next week they travel to play you. You just do that the whole season.
There were 250,000 people in the city in Romania where I lived. I was the only black person there. From their standpoint, they see a black dude and they assume that you know all the black dudes in America or just all the Americans. People would ask ‘how’s P. Diddy? How’s Snoop Dogg?’ or ‘How’s Elton John?’ I was like, dude, he’s not even American. They could tell I was American because of the way I dressed. I didn’t know Americans dressed a certain way. People would come up to me and say ‘those are American shoes.’
It was a remarkable experience on every level, but eventually I just wanted to go home and watch SportsCenter. You get homesick. Back in ’99 the Internet was not yet something you could watch all your shows on. I missed my local radio station. You lose footing with what’s hot. Jordan came out of retirement at that time. I didn’t hear much about it. There was a headline about a bombing in the Middle East, something about an albino alligator and like a five-second story on Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards. I would have liked to have heard more about it at that time.
RR: There was a clause in your contract that disallowed you from cycling while playing professional table tennis. Did you miss cycling?
BP: At 16, I was introduced to professional cycling at the Olympic Training Center, and I’ve been using cycling as my cross-training ever since. Cycling is huge in Europe. They said I couldn’t cycle, and I was like how do I cross train? I’m a double athlete.
One of their top table tennis players had been paralyzed in a moped accident and there was a sweep across Europe: No motorcycles, no mopeds, no skateboards. I had to use a stationary bike.
Literally, if you cycled, your contract was null and void. I could change my contract because I didn’t like the phone the sponsors provided. I could change my contract to switch apartments, but they wouldn’t budge on cycling.
RR: Are you more into cycling or table tennis now?
BP: I’ve been torn between the two as of late. Table tennis is the cute girlfriend with the really bad attitude. You don’t know how she’s going to be from day to day. Cycling is the mistress who cooks for you and doesn’t rock the boat.
The big thing is traveling. From Virginia down, I’m the best player in the country. To get beat, I have to leave my region. It’s not a bragging thing. I’ve beaten everyone since 1997. I’ve lost five times since I’ve moved to Florida. You can check my history. Most people lose three times a month. If I’m going to play competitively, I’m going to need a bigger pond. In Romania, I got beat a lot, even though playing there was the right thing for me to do.
A lot of my friends who play table tennis aren’t professional athletes, and they just don’t have the time to train or can’t get out of work often enough to do serious table tennis. Cycling is how I keep my competitive fires burning. There are fifteen or so people who I train with who are just as good as me.
RR: You do mountain biking and road biking. Is there a difference in how you train?
BP: You have to train longer for road cycling. We don’t have mountains in Florida, but we have really jagged trails. In Florida, the trails go up 45 feet at 40 degrees. It’s almost more like climbing. You get really beat up from mountain biking. After an hour and twenty minutes, your hands and your butt are numb. Mountain biking is physically harder because you have to jump and maneuver. Your abs and core get sore.
Road cycling is legs, just legs. In mountain biking, you may be able to position yourself to cushion a sore spot from the bumps, but there is no hiding your legs in road cycling.
RR: How did you get into cyclist training?
BP: I was training table tennis players when one of them asked if I was a really a cyclist. I didn’t like the word cyclist. It was just cross-training. There was a local fitness center. They asked me to get certified and come teach on Sunday. It was a great two-hour workout, and I started teaching and it just sort of snowballed.
RR: You’ve written extensively about juicing. What’s your juicing philosophy?
BP: You can juice for speed, endurance and power. The reason I got into writing these books was because no one had written anything about juicing for athletes. Way back before it was popular, I was juicing when you had to get fresh produce from the farmer’s markets because the supermarket stuff had pesticides. Juicing was kind of my introduction to a healthy lifestyle.
Everything was taken care of at the Olympic Training Center. They made sure I was eating healthy, like getting enough iron for the high altitude. I went to college and had to get a job at a burger place because there was no funding for table tennis. I had to throw away everything I learned about nutrition until I got a private coaching job.
When I got a real job, my kitchen transformed. I stopped going to juice bars and spending 16 dollars a day on juice. Back then I got a juicer called a Norwalk. Norman Walker was the founder of juicing. He was supposed to die and he juiced some carrots and watermelon and got himself back to health. Being able to juice allows you to keep your health at a better level. I was a crash test dummy for juicing in those days, and I’d go down to the library to learn about celery or carrots or whatever and then try it out.
RR: What are your views on beet juice?
BP: Beet juice is another cute girl with a bad attitude. If you’re drinking 16 oz of beet juice a day, you will not have anything in your intestines. It cleans you out. Your body cannot easily hold 16 oz of beet juice every single day.
I drank 16 oz of beet juice for sixteen days and did laps around the park on a bike. I knocked over a minute off of my time. People using drugs cannot get that result. Steroids may make you stronger, but nothing else decreases the oxygen cost of exercise.
I wrote a book on how to juice beets. Now, I just tell people to drink Red Rush because it gives you a more concentrated benefit. You no longer have to go to the store, find, clean and juice beets and then wash up after. I just hit the shot and I’m done. Red Rush made it cheaper and easier and took away the guess work. Also, I’ve never had gastrointestinal problems with Red Rush.
If someone gets a new set of wheels or a new heart rate monitor, everybody wants the latest gadget. It’s harder to get them to change their food rituals.The last two times I’ve went out, my friends could tell something was different. I’m famous for cramping up in the home stretch. I don’t cramp up anymore. I’m not selling my peers on Red Rush. I don’t have to. They just have to look at my performance.