He swims, he bikes, he runs, he has won gold medals and, yes, he has food allergies. To say that the man best known for his spectacular win at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics is a fine example of coping with a condition is to understate.
While Simon Whitfield only discovered his food allergies in 2003, they have not slowed him down. This summer (Eds: 2005), he has kept up a grueling training regime, and recently lent his star power to Nike’s RunTO, a 10-kilometre run around Toronto Island. (For the event, locals donated thousands of used running shoes that will be recycled to create a high school track.)
From his home in Victoria, Whitfield spoke with Allergic Living’s Laura deCarufel about reactions during races, tips for athletes with allergies and his passion for organic farming.
How did you find out you had allergies?
During a race in Japan about two years ago, I had a reaction. It was awful. I was running and thought, ‘Gosh, my neck is itchy,’ kept running and thought, ‘Geez, the back of my head is feeling swollen.’ I crossed the finish line – and came in, like, ninth – and my training partner came up to me right away. I could tell from his reaction that something was really wrong.
What did you do about it?
We did all sorts of tests, the RAST and everything. I found out I’m allergic to lamb, milk, and some other foods. The lamb really hurt – that’s my favourite food. I’m like, ‘lamb, hook me up,’ but it turns out it’s the worst thing for me.
What advice can you offer to athletes with allergies?
It’s essential to figure out what your allergy is. You’re putting all this time, effort and commitment into your sport – it makes sense to figure out the health things that make a difference to you. It will optimize your performance. And you won’t feel right until you know for sure what’s making you sick.
What’s your worst allergic moment?
Japan was rough, and in Australia right after the Worlds in 2003,
I had to be rushed to emergency because of shortness of breath. It’s so easy now to reflect on what caused it – I was eating lamb. But at the time, I couldn’t put it together. Then last year, I was driving on the highway in Toronto and I had a reaction – tingling lips and itchy neck. I caught that one a bit earlier, and managed to pull over.
How does your interest in organic farming relate to your allergies?
It’s that whole thing of knowing where your food is coming from, which gives you a sense of comfort. My wife Jenny is very educated about it, and I can now go into the garden and say ‘arugula’ and point at random things and hope I’m right. [Laughs.]
But I do have a real interest. It’s the most relaxing thing to do: go out in the garden, pick a salad, make the salad and think, ‘Hey, we made this.’ That’s cool.
Do you have an allergy-friendly restaurant to recommend?
You have to go to the Rebar (250-361-9223) in Victoria. They have these amazing yam quesadillas and almond burgers, and the kitchen is really good about checking ingredients and switching menu items around. I go there all the time; I just don’t order lamb any more.
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First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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