Allergies and Adversity

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…

Et cetera.

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.

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Cooking while on the road for a couple months.

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:

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Racing in Switzerland
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Being a tourist in Costa Rica

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.

 

25 Replies to “Allergies and Adversity”

  1. You are such an inspiration, not only working through your own limitations, but not allowing them to affect other people. I cannot believe how you’ve been able to make your body work at such high intensity with your limited nutrient abilities. What I find so relatable is what you said about questioning your body’s ability to continue skiing. While we all have limitations, people rarely talk about re-evaluating whether they are worth working through, especially when it comes to mental health. I will continue to follow you and use you as a role model for the idea that, in the end, if you love what you do any obstacle is worth working through.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carly, I am in awe of the amount of work you’re required to do just to keep yourself safe! Especially since this is something you’ve had to adapt to as an established athlete, so many people would have given up if put in your shoes. While I don’t have allergies, I can relate to having to accommodate my body’s changing needs and adjust my behaviors accordingly (it’s not as easy to bounce back from hard workouts now as it was when I was a junior!). I’m excited to continue following your journey, keep up the amazing work and content!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “A comment from Mom…..The fact that you didn’t have a life threatening reaction until you were a freshmen in college made the challenges associated with safe food a burden that you shouldered alone. A challenge that could have easily and understandably destroyed your life path. But instead it brought out your strength, courage and faith in your ability to find solutions. Your path was interrupted but not destroyed. Like you, I am thankful to all of the allergen -free food manufactures not only for the safe foods that they provide but also for the awareness that they create.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. While both myself and my daughter have food allergies, they are not life-changing as yours have been. I cannot even comprehend the isolation you must deal with every day. Most cultures use food and meals as socialization and to miss out on that adds new challenges as you explore the world. I love that planning and knowing your ingredients are your two “secrets”. Those two things are applicable to everyone, making you so relatable to people everywhere. I truly believe everyone should be reading labels. It is so important to now what is in our food.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, what a great insight into the power of being positive in everything you do. No complaints just this is what I do to move forward. I thought being a vegetarian, 60 something endurance mid pack athlete fighting hard not to improve but just not to lose too much was a battle. Keep moving and have fun…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carly you are one of the most amazing young ladies. You persevere through things most would give up on. You are able to figure so much out on your own. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Carly, you are truly an inspiration in all that you have accomplished! You will be the voice to help others with the same life challenging food allergies. Keep up your great work, so proud of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have discipline, drive and determination. At a young age you’ve been faced with many obstacles.. Instead of playing the victim you have chosen to be a survivor. Hoping for safer manufacturing of foods to lessen your burden and provide an easier life style ..You’re amazing !!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Overcoming challenges with strength and grace is powerful and can show others how to persevere and continue to their follow their heart despite adversity. Thank you for sharing your story and providing others inspiration. Food allergies severe enough to be life threatening could be debilitating but your story shows us all how to live, and live well with whatever challenge may come our way. As some who too has faced some physical challenges (in my case a stroke) and who is a life long runner, I know all too well how important the guidance, support and insights of others can be in helping to literally – get back on your feet.

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  10. Hi Carly! I love your blog! Reading your blog has given me a deeper appreciation for what you go through on a daily basis. Your in depth perspective gives me the chills because I cannot imagine having to be so completely aware of everything and everyone around you in order to keep yourself safe. You are amazing! I too have suffered from a severe allergy which also landed me in the ER for an overnight stay. I was stung while riding my bike by a yellow jacket and had every symptom that exists for anaphylaxis. I am also allergic to yellow hornets and paper wasps. They all look very similar so I really never know what I am encountering as I hike a trail or go for a kayak. I was told I was in critical condition with a blood pressure of 60/20. I too have a new appreciation for life! I never really understood how severe food allergies were until after my experience. I have a new appreciation for food allergens because I honestly feel they are more difficult to control than my allergy. Its almost impossible for you to have complete control over your surroundings and how food allergens may be introduced into your space. I on the other hand, have been getting venom injections to build up immunity to yellow jackets, hornets and wasps. I still need to always carry an Epi pen, but may only need it if I am stung by more than one yellow jacket at one time now. In addition, I am ultra cautious and quite vigilant when I am working at the school and told of a student with a food allergy. Not everyone has the same severity of food allergy, but why take any chances,right? Carly I commend you for continuing to do the things you love and making the life style changes necessary to still allow for you to live the life you enjoy. I am in awe of you and your persistence to excel despite the limitations of your food allergy. Good luck on your future endeavors. I know you will do great things!

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  11. Colleen-

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Needless to say, I feel for you with the bee allergy! But we do what we have to do, right? Allergies are a part of who we are, but as with any form of adversity we can make it work!

    Carly

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  12. Hope-

    Thank you for sharing your own adversity! Even the most dramatic circumstances don’t have to dictate our lives. We always have a choice as to how we want to respond, and with an open mind adversity can become creativity!

    Carly

    Like

      1. Thank you. I’m almost out and will look for that brand. I choose to support the manufacturers that you have researched !

        Like

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