The team caught the eye of John Smythe, a 29-year-old Vancouver native who plays midfield for the men’s national field-hockey team.
What could be safer than pancakes for someone with a severe peanut allergy?
But that’s the thing: If you’re allergic, you can never assume you’re safe.
Twelve-year-old Eric Wittig is doing his second Vancouver Sun Run on April 14 to raise awareness and money for allergies research.
He has severe allergies to peanuts, cashews, pistachios and a legume called lupin, which shares a protein with peanuts. It’s a well-known allergen in Europe and is starting to show up in more foods in Canada.
“I found out by accident. It was mixed into my pancakes and it made me very sick,” Eric said.
He is part of Team Allergy, a youth team that caught the eye of John Smythe, a 29-year-old Vancouver native who plays midfield for the men’s national field-hockey team.
Smythe and his teammates will join Team Allergy at the start (and finish) line on race day.
“Playing field hockey in Canada is, what some might say, a niche sport, one which probably wouldn’t be able to be played at the highest level without the support of the community,” Smythe said from Malaysia, where the team is competing at the moment. “Therefore, it’s not uncommon on the national team to try to get involved with the community as much as possible.”
That includes coaching. And that’s how Smythe met Eric’s parents at York House, where their daughter attends school. When they told him about Team Allergy, Smythe — who has Crohn’s Disease — immediately thought of his teammate Taylor Curran, a veteran midfielder from North Vancouver who has a peanut allergy.
“We often joke around on tour that we can’t eat peanut butter, but I’m also aware of the planning and fear of uncertainty that comes with travelling to different countries. This can be harrowing,” Smythe said.
“Ultimately, as soon as we heard about Team Allergy, the national team boys wanted to join the fundraising initiative and have fun at the same time. Running in the Sun Run for Team Allergy will mean the world to us to give back to the community that has already helped us so much.”
To which Eric says a big thank you. It gives a boost to his goal of raising $8,000 toward allergy research at B.C. Children’s Hospital, a groundbreaking oral autoimmuno therapy program under the direction of Dr. Edmond Chan.
“I’m really excited and happy that the field-hockey players are joining us. That’s my main sport,” the St. George’s student said from Toronto, where the family was on Spring Break.
There are 86,000 kids in B.C. who live with food allergies, according to B.C. Children’s, and it imposes a substantial psychosocial and economic burden on affected families.
“Food allergies and anxiety go hand-in-hand,” said Susan Esposito, Eric’s mom and manager of Team Allergy’s 90 runners. “Just avoiding (foods you’re allergic to) is not enough of a management system. A food allergy is a 24/7, 365-day worry. It is absolutely terrifying.
“When you have a food allergy, you feel hopeless. You’re given an EpiPen and told to avoid your allergies.”
Thus Chan’s program and Team Allergy’s fund- and awareness-raising.
“There aren’t a lot of things out there that give you this opportunity, that are so well-known and loved as the Sun Run,” Esposito said.
Registration remains open for individual and mini Sun Run until April 9. The team category is full.