Taekwondo Champion Doesn’t Let Food Allergies Hold Him Back
Earlier this summer, 12-year old PJ Katcher earned a bronze medal in the cadet division at the 2017 USA Taekwondo Nationals in Detroit, MI. PJ, who is ranked third in the United States in his division, has not let his multiple food allergies deter him from pursuing excellence in his chosen sport. We recently asked PJ to share about his food allergy journey and what advice he would give to others.
Tell us about your food allergies. What are you allergic to? How old were you when your allergies were diagnosed?
I have a life-threatening allergy to peanut and I am also allergic to tree nuts, soy, milk, melon, salmon and sesame. I was diagnosed with most of my allergies at about a year old. The allergy to sesame and salmon is more recent and was only discovered after I had an anaphylactic reaction about a year ago, coincidentally during taekwondo training.
What is the most challenging part of your food allergies?
The most challenging part of my food allergies are social/public situations and events. They are very difficult because I can't eat the same food as other people, and I had to be very careful about what I am touching or what I am near. Most places that kids my age go to do not have menus that I can eat from. If I want to eat while I am out, I usually need to bring my own food with me.
How did you get involved with taekwondo?
My parents signed me up when I was about five years old. I competed regionally and recently started competing at the national level.
How do you manage your food allergies while competing in tournaments?
I need to be very careful at tournaments since many people bring products that I am allergic to. Lots of kids use energy bars and candy which I am severely allergic to. I always bring my own food to tournaments and always carry both an antihistamine and my epinephrine auto-injector. The stress of being around the food is sometimes more stressful than the competitions themselves.
If you could give any advice to other kids with food allergies, what would it be?
Having food allergies doesn't mean that you can't do what you want to do as long as you're careful and let people know, and you can really do anything that you want to do.
For more information and tips on how to manage your food allergies every day, visit foodallergy.org/life-with-food-allergies.