Alex Tagliani: On the Fast Track to Raising Allergy Awareness
Education and Advocacy Canadian race car star Alex Tagliani lives with food allergies every day and never lets them hold him back. Mediaplanet gets up close and personal with him to see how he manages his allergies and helps to raise awareness.
Mediaplanet: How and when did you discover you had food allergies? What was it like growing up with them?
Alex Tagliani: I’ve had food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts since I was very young. Growing up with these allergies was a challenge for me because there wasn’t a lot of awareness of food allergies and it was hard for people to understand the seriousness of this issue. I had to be very independent from a young age and make sure I knew how to avoid nuts and peanuts at all times.
PHOTO: Jennifer Driscoll
MP: Today, many people with allergies self-diagnose instead of getting tested. Why do you think it’s important that people get tested?
AT: I think it’s important to have the proper allergy tests done by an allergist to make sure you have an accurate diagnosis. Trying to self-diagnose can be dangerous and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not worth risking your safety and health.
MP: What was your experience of having allergies when you were in school? How did your peers react?
AT: When I was in school and especially when I was living away from home in boarding school, there wasn’t the awareness about food allergies that there is today. I was the only one at my high school with food allergies so I had to make sure I was very careful with all the food I ate. My friends were supportive and I didn’t let my allergies stop me from participating in school activities. I found that I just had to be more careful than the other kids.
MP: As part of your Summer of TAG program, you’re touring Canadian cities to speak to children about effective anaphylaxis management this summer — what inspired you to get involved with this initiative?
"If I can share my experience and help them feel more comfortable about their allergies then I can make a difference."
AT: I have a personal story to tell people that will help increase the awareness of food allergies, so I wanted to get involved with Anaphylaxis Canada and Epipen® and with the Summer of TAG program to help reach out to children and teens. When I talk to kids I actually learn a lot from them — on how they manage their allergies and what their challenges are. If I can share my experience and help them feel more comfortable about their allergies then I can make a difference. Through the Summer of TAG initiative, kids can help raise awareness of food allergies and take part in my helmet and racecar design contests in their own community.
MP: As a world-class athlete training and travelling, what do you do to manage your health when you’re on the go? What advice do you have for Canadians to do the same?
AT: When it comes to my allergies I need to be very cautious when I travel, especially outside of North America. Not all countries understand food allergies or have the same food labelling practices. I always bring my own snacks/food when I travel, and of course, my EpiPens®. I would recommend both for anyone with a food allergy. When dining out, I always talk to the restaurant manager or chef directly about my allergies before I order to ensure there is a safe meal option for me. My hard training is done in the off-season months when I’m not on-track every weekend. Driving the car is a lot more physically demanding than people may think and it’s really the best form of preparation. During the race season my training is for maintenance, but healthy nutrition is the key during the season.
MP: What does a typical day look like for you?
AT: I don’t have a set schedule- being a racecar driver isn’t a 9-to-5 job. On any given day I could be up early for travel, TV or other appearances or I could be at my home office working on one of the ongoing projects that one of my businesses is handling at that time. If I’m racing, I’m up early and at the garage or trailer with the engineers setting up the car for the day and preparing my race gear as well. I’m a night owl so on non-race nights I like to watch a movie or watch race replays — it’s my “study” time.
MP: What are some of your favourite go-to meals when eating in or dining out?
AT: I always try to find healthy options when I eat out and of course options that will accommodate my food allergy. Whole Foods Market is one of my favourite places to shop and eat when I’m on the road. In my experiences I have found that most restaurants are good at accommodating meal requests if you keep it simple. Grilled chicken or fish with steamed vegetables is easy enough to prepare and most chefs are happy to do so if you ask nicely. When at home or in our motor coach, my wife will prepare simple healthy meals. Our summertime favorite is a big salad full of different vegetables with grilled chicken on top.
"I wish people would understand how quickly an allergic reaction can happen and that you need to treat it right away with your EpiPen®. Take it from me — waiting can be dangerous!"
MP: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about anaphylaxis and allergies?
AT: I wish people would understand how quickly an allergic reaction can happen and that you need to treat it right away with your EpiPen®. Take it from me — waiting can be dangerous!
MP:What tips do you have for parents in supporting their child’s allergies?
AT: Teach your kids from a young age how to manage their allergies and let them know that even though they have to be more careful than other kids, they can still do anything they want in life, including driving a race car.
MP: What are some of your hobbies outside of racing?
AT: Of course the majority of my hobbies are racing-related but I also love biking and rollerblading and I’m a movie buff. I also have a passion for interior design and have renovated more than five homes over the past 10 years.
MP: What’s next for you in your career?
AT: That I can’t say for sure. I’m not done racing yet so I’ll see where the next few years take me. I’m enjoying doing what I’m doing and the path that I’m on. I will stay in racing as long as I can and continue to raise awareness of allergies long beyond that. There are some really exciting things happening this year, such as Tagliani Autosport, and I’m doing my best to live in the moment more and enjoy it while I’m living it. Who knows after that, you’ll just have to stay tuned!