How many times have you looked enviously at someone else’s life and thought, “I could never do that, I’m not ______, I don’t know how to ________, I don’t have ______.”
We see the highlights of our friends lives on social media, the snapshots that make everything look so much easier for others than it is for us. Our own personal challenges and setbacks appear to limit us in unique ways, and we may find ourselves justifying why we could never do, have, or be something, even if it is something we deeply want.
It’s natural. I do it every day.
Her VO2 max is WAY higher than mine… I don’t have the money to travel like that… If I’d had a close friend that could have gotten me in with so-and-so…
When I write about my own athletic career and nomadic lifestyle on this blog and on my Facebook page, I write about the highlights, the hard work, and the trivial challenges. I don’t write about the stuff that has truly made me think I could never do this, the stuff that still makes me feel like giving it all up sometimes.
This post is a little different. Because at some point, we all realize that everyone faces adversity. Everyone struggles, encounters obstacles, setbacks. Before I reveal my #1 personal challenge, here are some fun facts about me that don’t usually make the headlines:
#1) I haven’t eaten at a restaurant in years.
#2) When I traveled to Europe last winter, I brought with me all the rice and pasta I would need for three weeks of sustenance.
#3) I bring multiple Epi-pens with me everywhere I go, including on all my workouts.
If you haven’t already guessed…
I have food allergies so severe that even a trace amount could kill me within minutes.
I make all my own food, I share none of my cooking appliances with anyone, and I research all of my ingredients extensively so ensure they are safe for me. If a friend made chocolate chip cookies and I wanted to eat them, I would have to ensure that every utensil involved in the making of the cookies was completely clean, and that not one of the ingredients was manufactured in a facility that processes my allergens. Yeah, not worth the cookie.
This poses a bit of a challenge when you’re traveling the world. How am I going to eat? has been the constant question since I began traveling for my ski career 10 years ago. There have been near misses. As I lay in the ER after one severe reaction, the doctors told me and my mom that when I first came in they didn’t think they were going to be able to save me. Hearing that changes your perspective a little.
I did not grow up with my allergies. This new challenge presented itself during high school, and for about four years my sensitivity increased dramatically. As I continued to have life-threatening reactions at unpredictable times, it felt like everything I had wanted for my life was being taken away. I’d always loved trying new food, loved the window it gave me into other cultures. I’d always eaten A LOT, as an endurance athlete, and of course, I’d traveled regularly and wanted to continue to do so.
Suddenly I was laden with new burdens. Every bite of food was laced with anxiety as I wondered if this would cause the next near-fatal reaction. I began reading the label on every manufactured food I might eat, something I still do to this day. There were a couple months where I was on the phone with food manufacturers daily, trying to find out whether their products are free of cross-contamination. Ever since suffering an airborne reaction just from being near people eating my allergens, I’ve had to ask anyone I get into a car with to not eat certain foods near me. But the worst was yet to come.
After a particularly scary reaction while at training camp with the Dartmouth Ski Team, I began to seriously question whether I could continue with my career as a ski racer. I need such a high degree of control over my food to ensure my safety, a career as an athlete just didn’t seem possible. If I couldn’t even travel safely within my own country, how would I ever race internationally? I cried for days, and finished out that training camp eating nothing but milk and plain brown rice.
But fast forward a few years and I’m still racing, and traveling more than ever both for athletic goals and non-athletic goals:
I get asked all the time how I manage it. The secret is twofold: It involves a LOT of planning, and I depend heavily on the foods that I know are safe.
The planning is critical, because I do bring most of my own food with me wherever I go. It can be isolating, staying alone in the hotel while teammates go out to dinner. It can be awkward, refusing all food and drink offers. Even making my own food can be difficult when I travel internationally. Foreign regulations on food manufacturing vary, making it almost impossible to know which brands are free of cross contamination.
There are some circumstances in which it is especially important to minimize my risk of having a reaction. Take traveling on airplanes, for instance, which I do a few times a year. Or training on a remote trail somewhere, which I do almost every day. For those circumstances, I am completely dependent on the few dedicated allergen-free manufacturers out there. One of my favorites is Enjoy Life, which makes cookies and energy bars free from ALL EIGHT major allergens (that’s an achievement!) Or Sunbutter, supplying me with my favorite nut-butter substitute. Or Vermont Nut Free, which makes, among other things, the only chocolate truffles in the world that I can eat 🙂 An energy bar from Enjoy Life or VT Nut Free is a staple for pretty much every workout.
Like everyone else who has ever faced adversity, my ability to make this work stems from one decision: I will not accept this limitation. I hope my story encourages you all to think about the stories you tell yourself about your limitations.
Leave me a comment and tell me about adversity of any form that you have faced. It’s inspiring to all of us to know what others are able to overcome. And please, if you know anyone who has food allergies, send this post along to them, or encourage them to contact me. I absolutely LOVE hearing from others who are dealing with food allergies. When we share our stories, we help keep each other safe. And we inspire each other and ourselves to not accept limitations, whatever our personal challenges may be.