http://www.wegmans.com/blog/2012/10/glu ... jenn-suhr/
My Interview with Olympian Jenn Suhr: Achieving Gold, While Living Gluten-Free
Written by Trish Kazacos, RD, ACE-CPT on October 28th, 2012.
Recently, a small group of Wegmans employees and I had the rare opportunity to chat with Olympic Gold Medalist Jenn Suhr, who won big in London this summer. Rochester, NY-area natives and regular Wegmans shoppers, Jenn and her husband/coach Rick shared some insights on how Celiac disease was a real game changer and how they came out on top. Jenn is now the #1 female pole vaulter in the world!
Until her diagnosis in 2010, Jenn was training at a level that should have resulted in improved performance. Instead, it was deteriorating. She felt very tired, fatigued, and experienced muscle cramping; pretty scary for a competitive athlete. At first Jenn suspected dehydration or nutritional deficiency and tried some modifications without success. After researching symptoms on the internet she stumbled across information indicating gluten sensitivity. A physician confirmed it was Celiac disease. Now that both she and Rick are living gluten-free, we had a few questions.
What were the symptoms that really got your attention?
“I couldn’t lift as much anymore and I couldn’t train as hard. My workouts went from a couple hours, down to one hour, to ‘okay, we have to take a day off’. My toes would cramp and my calves would cramp in the middle of the night or during workouts, so then we were thinking it was an electrolyte balance, some kind of dehydration. So I’m drinking water, Pedialyte, any type of product out there to try to replenish and nothing was working out. And it was really research we did online that led to it; I put in ‘muscle cramping,’ ‘muscle twitching’ and a lot of it was going to gluten or sensitivity to wheat. What we started to do is look further into it and we started to cut it out and then all of a sudden it started to improve a little bit, so we ended up going to a doctor and weeded things out and that’s when we got to Celiac disease. Once that happened though I was able to cut stuff out right away and improvements went fast.” —Jenn
Since Jenn was in the middle of competitive training her husband Rick went to the store to stock up on safe foods. He describes that first shopping trip as being filled with PANIC. Although Jenn was the routine grocery shopper, Rick was used to reading food labels. Due to stringent drug testing required in her sport, both Rick and Jenn already had to be diligent in reading food labels to avoid specific ingredients. Now having to look to avoid gluten added a new complexity to grocery shopping that lead to Rick’s nervousness. What could Jenn safely eat? Rick remembers that first shopping trip took over 2.5 hours yet he left the store with only a half a basket of things. He called a friend who also has Celiac asking for help. The advice he was given – Go to Wegmans. They have a whole section of gluten-free foods.
Were there certain foods that were hard to give up?
“Gluten-free bread is really crumbly. It’s not like a normal packed bread, so sandwiches are really hard to make and to eat. And when you dip it into soup it’s crumbled all over the place. I really liked pizza too.”—Jenn
When I asked if there is one food she wished Wegmans would offer, Jenn said a hot pizza in Prepared Foods. We told her it’s a common a request from gluten-free customers, and we are exploring some options – stay tuned!
Has your diligent athletic training helped you adjust to a gluten-free diet?
“Diet is one of the big things with pole vault, especially women pole vaulters; you have to maintain a weight because the poles are weighted also (about 3-4lbs, but once you angle it, it’s like 20 pounds). You have to be strong and in shape so we definitely pay close attention to the diet. I do think the strict discipline has helped with the strict discipline needed with the gluten free diet.”—Jenn
“Jenn and I were sitting there thinking how are we going to compete at that level where nutrition has to be virtually perfect to begin with. It’s a real panic until you get the information.” —Rick
Jenn admits the diet can be a challenge because it requires a lot of time and planning. She travels the world to compete and has learned that it’s hard to find gluten-free foods abroad. Not all countries label foods as being gluten-free (and some are not even labeled in English). That’s why Jenn packs one suitcase filled with foods she knows are safe to eat—including granola bars, rice, crackers and canned chicken.
Did the Olympic village offer gluten-free food?
“It was easier in London. I didn’t stay in the village with the athletes. I stayed with him [Rick] in a place run by the Olympic committee, and they brought all their nutritionists and all their cooks from Colorado over so it was very much anything that was on the menu. Everything was listed with ingredients, and especially being Track and Field. We are the most drug tested program out there so you have to be very careful of what you take in.”—Jenn
What are you doing day-to-day now that the Olympics are over?
“Maintaining fitness, that’s what we call it. This time of year it’s not heavy training, it’s not training that’s pole vault related. It’s more cross-training, swimming, elliptical. We try to stay in shape.”—Jenn
What’s a typical daily menu like?
“We are pretty routine. I like oatmeal in the morning; he eats a gluten-free bar. But then, it’s usually a salad or something in the afternoon, and then in between we’ll have Greek yogurt. UDI’s cranberry is what we like. That’s usually a snack then at dinner we try to go with meat and vegetables.” –Jenn
“We come in [Wegmans] a lot and eat lunch; it’s our break within the day.” – Rick
Do you have any advice for people recently diagnosed with Celiac disease?
“You have to come to a place like Wegmans that has a [dedicated] section because when we didn’t know about it and we didn’t know much about wheat or flour. Everything you are used to seeing and buying in like 20 years, and all of a sudden you can’t buy it anymore. You don’t know so it really does help to have a section and to give information about what is out there.” – Jenn
Jenn also tries to encourage young athletes not to give up.
“We were talking to a college coach in the area the other day and he said that some of his athletes were just diagnosed with it and he said they were thinking of quitting the team, thinking they can’t train anymore and he’s like, “no, let’s go through the options; this is not the end of your life, it’s an adjustment to your life.”—Jenn
After talking with both of them, what really stood out was the strong partnership Jenn and Rick have. Rick shared, “She’s a great story for people because if [she] can pull that off [getting a gold medal], then you can deal with it [living gluten-free] on a day-to-day basis.” We think so, too, and were very honored to have the time to hear their story and be able to share it with our customers!
But before we said goodbye, we had to ask, what’s next for you, now that you’ve reached gold?
“Right now it’s about really enjoying it. I think it goes so fast before you are training again and you are in your indoor season and the first meet is in the beginning of February. It goes that fast so we are trying to enjoy it right now. I’m catching up on laundry it seems like every day. It’s just catching up with everything that we missed when we were away. We have a pole vault summit in January in Reno, Nevada which is like 5,000 pole vaulters. They rent out a hotel and they put 10 different pads out so all the vaulters, from eight years old to masters. I’ll pole vault there. It’s just fun. We’ll go in there and have a great time. We’re looking forward to that.”— Jenn
Will you compete in 2016 in Rio?
“That was the first question I was hit with after winning the gold was the reporter from Brazil, and they were like ‘so, what about Rio.’ They are pumped up already. They are ready to go.”— Jenn
News about Elite US pole vaulters and elite competitions that occur on US soil.
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