Race car driver on a mission to get kids to be aware of deadly food allergies
United Sportscar Championship driver Alex Tagliani revved up Northern Secondary students April 3 in an effort to raise awareness of food allergies.
The 40-year-old native of Lachenaie, Que. shared through anecdotes his severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, and encouraged students to not let sensitivities to certain foods inhibit their dreams.
“For me it’s really important because we have had this discussion with the people from Anaphylaxis and EpiPen,” he told the
Town Crier after the question-and-answer talk. “It’s interesting, because there are two different routes.”
Some parents, he said, tend to over-protect their children and won’t bring anything into the house that contains ingredients their kids are allergic to — “almost like they want to make them live in a bubble” — while others, like him, are “totally the example of the opposite.”
Samantha Steiner-Mayman, 14, who serves on the youth advisory panel of Anaphylaxis Canada, helped bring Tagliani to the school. As one who suffers from allergies to peanuts, mustard and kiwi, she said she was encouraged by the racer’s speech.
“I think it’s very important he comes and does this because famous people are the best way to promote these things, because people are more likely to listen to him,” she said.
Northern doesn’t have a strict no-peanut rule imposed on students, but any food brought in by the school is peanut free, Steiner-Mayman shared, adding she takes part in martial arts and piano without worry about her allergies.
Mom, Judy Steiner, also said she was pleased with Tagliani’s appearance.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “The more awareness the better.”
“It makes me feel good too, she’s always carried her epipen since she’s been very young,” she said. “The more her friends know, the more comfortable, they know how to use it.”
According to Anaphylaxis Canada, 2.5 million people have food allergies, but only 600,000 epipens are in circulation.
That number irks Tagliani, who says he doesn’t understand why there is such a high number of “people risking out there.”
“If you go to a race car driver and say, ‘Today we’re going racing, but don’t wear your seatbelt or put on your helmet’, the guy will say, ‘You’re crazy — it’s too much risk’,” he said. “Why would you, if you have a food allergy, be going around eating at restaurants without your epipen on you, or leaving it at home, or not even owning one?”
Tagliani also took the opportunity to announce his Summer of Tag campaign, a joint venture with EpiPen, which allows fans to submit helmet and car designs that will be placed on his car when he races.
“We have this pretty interesting website where we include and involve the crowd in participating by submitting a car design we end up racing on track,” he said. “In this day and age, the sport we’re doing is all paid by corporate sponsors, so it’s difficult to approve some kids to submit a design, but we will.
“I think it’s pretty fun because we’re in a professional sport and we allow them to get their 15-minutes of fame. It promotes creativity, teamwork.”