Alumni Profile: Paul Underhill

In his late 20s, Paul Underhill began the most vital research project of all — finding a way to extend his life. A feature story preview from the upcoming UVic Torch Alumni Magazine.

Paul Underhill


At six months old Paul Underhill was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the digestive system and the lungs. Many succumb before their 30th birthday — fluid fills the lungs and hardens, gradually shrinking lung capacity until there is none at all.

Since the 1990s, new research and treatment methods have improved odds of reaching adulthood, and Underhill, BA ’94, LLB ’99, was determined to do whatever it took to survive.

“I realized I couldn’t rely on my doctors, no matter how great they were, to keep apprised of the latest research,” Underhill says. “You have to look at what the science is right now, and thanks to my research skills from UVic, I knew how to find the information.”

Underhill pored through medical journals, researching new treatments for CF and lung health. His wife Sandra, BSc ’94, whom he met in a fourth year Psychology class, studied nutrition and the link between diet and disease.

“It’s not in Paul’s personality to sit back and wait for things to unfold,” Sandra says. “When he wants something, he goes full steam ahead — and he wanted to stay as healthy as possible.”

Combining their research, husband and wife noted a high correlation between inflammation and many degenerative conditions. Add to that evidence that CF patients with good nutrition have better lung function, and Underhill set out to concoct a nutritious “supershake” that his body could thrive on.

“I was looking for a beverage of the highest quality that was easy to digest. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find (what I needed),” says Underhill, who is also diabetic.

The recipe for what would eventually show up in grocery stores as the Rumble supershake took six months to develop in the Underhills’ kitchen. The shake had to be gluten-, lactose-, and soy-free, low in sugar, and free of genetically modified organisms.

“Most important of all, it had to taste great. That’s what took so long in the kitchen, perfecting the taste,” says Underhill.

Rumble comes in two flavours, Dutch cocoa and vanilla maple, both naturally sweetened with organic maple syrup, organic agave nectar, and vanilla bean. Using organic oils as its base, the drink is light and fluid, not chalky, and it has no aftertaste. It’s sold in a reusable aluminum bottle.

Once Underhill was satisfied with the shake, he realized he had a product he could bring to market.

In 2008, he launched Rumble with co-founder Steve Hughes, a friend with sales and business experience. In 2009, the team expanded to include Victoria naturopath Dr. Kim McQueen, who tweaked the recipes to improve their nutritional content. Her brother-in-law James McQueen, BComm ’01, took on business development.


All through the process of creating the business, Underhill’s CF worsened. He needed two oxygen tanks and couldn’t cross a room without help. He and Sandra left their jobs to look after his health. As he waited for a life-saving double-lung transplant, he relied on his shake for nutrients to keep his body as healthy as possible.

“The biggest risk pre-transplant is that you get so skinny you’re not going to do well afterward,” he says. “Sitting here today, (three years post-transplant), I’m two pounds heavier than the day I got transplanted, because Sandra made my shake, the essence of Rumble, every day.”

Underhill was living proof the drink lived up to its promise to be a nutritious, protein-rich drink.

The team knew they had a winning recipe, and when Underhill appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in December 2013, all five dragons wanted to invest in the company.

Rumble’s biggest challenge was finding a production partner who could work with its delicate ingredients like organic flax oil, which is rich in omega-3s and believed to reduce inflammation. The team persevered, determined the oil would remain an ingredient alongside pomegranate, red beet juice, organic spinach, kale, and Rumble’s signature protein blend.

“We searched for months until we found a partner who could work with organic flax seed oil. As far as we know, we’re the only beverage in North America that contains flax oil of any kind.”

Rumble is also the first drink to be labeled a “nourishing drink” by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (as opposed to a meal replacement or energy drink).


With new lungs and a new lease on life, Underhill forged ahead after his surgery, fueled by his passions and drive to succeed. A year post-transplant, he won five gold medals in the Canadian Transplant Games in Calgary. Two years post-transplant, he biked 1,200 km from Vancouver to Banff for GearUp4CF, a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Canada, for which Rumble was the title sponsor. In 2014, he rode the course again — with Sandra riding part of it, too — helping to raise a record $380,000 for CF research.

Rumble has brought Underhill full circle: he developed the drink to keep himself alive, and now, the success of the business has become the perfect platform for him to advocate for both CF and organ donation to help prolong the lives of others.

Meanwhile, he continues to face health challenges. The anti-rejection medication he takes is harsh on his kidneys, which have been causing him problems. “A lung transplant isn’t a cure. I’ve exchanged one set of difficulties for another,” he says, good-naturedly.

But like every other challenge Underhill has encountered in his 44 years, he faces those to come with a positive mindset. “When I meet a challenge, when I hear I can’t do something, I think ‘Yes, I can.’ If you want to see me do something, just tell me I can’t.”

From the upcoming edition of the UVic Torch Alumni Magazine. Back issues.