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Oklahoma City’s best athletes spend most meals eating to perform, but a few local restaurants are worth a cheat day

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Reilly Dampeer poses for a photo at Red Prime in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Reilly Dampeer poses for a photo at Red Prime in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017.

The red dirt of Oklahoma is a famously rich soil for growing two things: food and athletes. It’s often considered a land of farmers and ranchers who nurture ripe tomatoes, sweet corn and livestock to feed the state’s residents. But the state’s athletic history is just as fertile.

Jim Thorpe, born near Prague, is considered by many to be the world’s greatest “pure” athlete, winning the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1908 Olympics and playing professional football in what would later become the National Football League.

Spavinaw-born Mickey Mantle became a Major League Baseball legend. Edmond native Shannon Miller won five gymnastics medals at the 1992 Olympics and finished her career in 1996 with two golds.

But as Oklahoma City has grown to include its own professional teams, the state also now imports some exceptional athletes who are almost as hungry for a good meal as they are for winning.

Steak strokes

Reilly Dampeer grew up playing soccer in Boston, Massachusetts, but when it came time to go to college, she found herself surrounded by some pretty serious competition.

“I went to Santa Clara University [in California],” she said. “I could either have been a ball girl for the soccer team or try something new.”

Rather than sit on the sidelines, she decided to get in the water.

“I saw the sign up for the rowing team and, man, that has changed my life,” Dampeer said. “I tried out as a freshman and never looked back.”

Dampeer is head coach and high performance program manager at Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, working with USRowing to train future generations of Olympic rowers.

Rowing is not a sport many people grow up with, so when Dampeer found herself on Santa Clara’s novice rowing squad, she was surrounded by other newcomers.

“I was just trying out a sport with a lot of other people trying it out. I gave it a whirl and fell in love with it,” she said.

Her enthusiasm took her from Division I competition at Santa Clara to a spot on the U.S. National Team as part of the Pan American Games in 2007 where she rowed in the Women’s Single finals. Now she’s passing that passion on to Olympic hopefuls from across the country and novices in Oklahoma City.

“I prepare athletes for national teams and international racing. Hopefully I’ll help them get to the podium, long-term,” she said.

Preparation involves time in the water using the Boathouse Foundation facility’s video review equipment to record practice strokes in the indoor flow tank and the Olympic lifting facility to make sure their form is correct. It also requires nutrition, which is provided through a partnership with Mercy Hospital.

“Rowing is a high-volume sport, so it requires a lot of energy and a lot of calories to burn,” Dampeer said. “Nutrition is really important, so the athletes have to get in enough calories so they can get through all the training they need to to perform.”

Mercy provides six meals a week for athletes training at the boathouse, she said. Having meals delivered is crucial, because timing is everything in high-level training.

“They must eat right after they work out to get the stores back up,” Dampeer said.

The ideal meals for the athletes she works with include a mix of proteins and carbohydrates with nutrient-dense foods, she said.

“A balanced meal usually consists of chicken, fish or turkey, broiled generally, and a big pile of vegetables — whatever’s in season,” she said. “Then there’s a starch, like potatoes, to fill us up.”

When she’s not eating at the boathouse, Dampeer’s favorite spot is Red PrimeSteak, 504 N. Broadway Ave.

“It’s a great place, but for athletes maybe not,” she said. “It’s out of a typical budget for rowers.”

The prime steakhouse, part of A Good Egg Dining Group, is Dampeer’s go-to when she hosts visitors from out of town.

“When my friends come to Oklahoma City, I take them to Red Prime. It’s fantastic,” she said. “I’m still working my way through the menu, but I want to try it all out. It’s all been unbelievable.”

Though she’s no longer competing, Dampeer takes her own health seriously.

“It’s important for anybody working with high-level athletes to show that they’re personally invested,” she said. “That means getting sleep and staying healthy. It’s easier to trust a coach on what to eat if that coach is eating well themselves.”

Red Prime might not be considered health food per se, but the menu is full of real foods prepared in-house by the restaurant’s chefs. If you want to eat like a champion, Dampeer suggests starting off with fried green tomatoes.

“Every time I go, I get the RP’s Tomatoes,” she said. “I think they are the perfect way to start the meal. The tamales are incredible, authentic flavors — so delicious. And I love the beef carpaccio. I could do that all evening.”

But a visit to Red Prime isn’t complete without a steak, which Dampeer describes as “killer.”

“My favorite side is the black truffle risotto with marrow butter,” she said. “I mean — stop it. Just perfection.”

Kicking it

A decade in professional soccer taught Cody Laurendi that eating right is key to staying in the game.

“I reflect and see what I can do better,” he said. “From last year to this year, getting the food on track has been huge.”

Laurendi is a second-year goalkeeper for Oklahoma City Energy Football Club. Though he’s still getting used to life in the Sooner State, he’s already a fan.

“I love it,” he said. “I came here from Austin [Texas] and I loved my lifestyle there, so I was a bit skeptical about moving to Oklahoma City.”

After spending a little time here, Laurendi said the city is head and shoulders above anywhere else he’s played.

Much like Dampeer’s Olympic rowing hopefuls, it takes a lot of food to keep Laurendi performing at peak physical condition. That’s how he started working with Coolgreens, 6475 Avondale Drive.

“I developed a relationship with Angelo Cipollone and he and I have come up with a meal plan,” Laurendi said. “They prepare my meals daily. I can’t speak highly enough about them.”

He goes into the restaurant Monday-Friday to pick up lunch and dinner.

“I’ve always been into cooking and food benefits, but since my schedule has gotten more and more busy, I rely on Coolgreens,” he said. “I’m about to start preseason training, so I’m in the gym until about 11 a.m. and then I’m heading back to work on goalkeeper skills.”

Cipollone keeps him energetic with healthy, tasty food that fills Laurendi’s caloric needs.

“Everything is fresh. It’s a perfect marriage for the food I need for my performance and it’s affordable,” he said. “That mix is a perfect storm.”

But the 6-foot-3, 225 athlete sometimes gets a hankering for his cheat spot, Bedlam BBQ, 610 NE 50th St.

“That’s my go-to,” Laurendi said. “I get a sweet potato with butter and cinnamon and some good brisket.”

He’s also become a fan of Oklahoma City’s Guatemalan restaurants, which appeal, oddly enough, to his Italian heritage.

“The type of food they make, there’s an underlying family aspect to it,” he said. “I’m Italian and that’s a big staple of our culture.”

His favorite spots are Cafe Kacao, 3325 N. Classen Blvd., and Cafe Antigua, 1903 N. Classen Blvd.

“It’s prepared with love,” Laurendi said. “It’s cliched I know, but that’s a big factor in why I love it.”

Ballpark bites

Oklahoma City Dodgers outfielder O’Koyea Dickson began playing professionally seven years ago and the food just keeps getting better.

Though he grew up in the culinary hotspot of San Francisco, he’s come to love Oklahoma after spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons playing in Bricktown. Part of that comes down to the organization’s commitment to players’ health.

The Dodgers feed players twice a day, both lunch and dinner, with organic meals.

“It’s huge,” Dickson said. “Having the right energy to go out and compete is big. They make sure we’re in the best shape and we’re putting the best food in our bodies to keep us as strong as possible.”

Baseball might not be considered an endurance sport, but when the game goes into extra innings and his teammates are staring at a fourth hour on the field, it is definitely taxing.

The Dodgers generally eat proteins including salmon, chicken, lean brisket and healthy meatballs along with a diet heavy on fresh vegetables.

But while the menu at the ballpark is set by the team, Dickson likes to dabble in dining out, as well.

Since breakfast is the meal the team doesn’t provide, that’s when he visits one of his favorites spots in the metro: Kitchen No. 324, 324 N. Robinson Ave.

“I go there a lot,” he said. “Breakfast is usually poached eggs, bacon, maybe some oatmeal with fresh berries.”

It’s hard to resist Kitchen’s decadent pastry case and Hollandaise-splashed breakfasts, but Dickson said he tries to keep it as healthy as possible.

After a long game, however, he’s more likely to let his hair down at a couple of spots near Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

“One or two restaurants I go to are Bricktown Brewery and, of course, Mickey Mantle’s [Steakhouse],” he said.

Whether it’s an homage to the Oklahoma great or just a love affair with fine dining, Mickey Mantle’s, 7 Mickey Mantle Drive, is a must when Dickson’s friends are in town. With a meal like that, he must have a lot of people who want to be his friend.

Print headline: Pro(tien) athletes, Oklahoma City’s best athletes spend most meals eating to perform, but a few local restaurants are worth a cheat day.

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