Lia Martirosyan: What’s a typical day in the life of Kendall Hollinger?
Kendall Hollinger: I get up, take my nutritional formula and medicine, and then eat via a feeding tube. After that I go to the rink and skate for a few hours. I’m home-hospital schooled in the afternoons; I might also have a vocal lesson at my church and then I do lots of homework.
Martirosyan: Have you ever attended a conventional school?
Hollinger: No, the day I went to get my school photos taken in kindergarten, I broke out in hives walking through the hall. So my doctors said that, at that time, my going to school was not safe and that maybe I could try again once I got to middle or high school. So when I turned 11, my allergic reactions were still so severe and numerous that my allergist didn’t think it would be a good idea.
By then, I wanted to stick with the education I was getting, because it would have been hard to say goodbye to the teachers I’d had for so long. After another three years passed, we considered school a third time; we even looked into my getting a peanut-allergy-sniffing dog, because they have those now. But again, it didn’t work out. I think I’ll definitely go to college.
Martirosyan: Physically attending school is overrated; as long as you’re self-motivated, you’ll get that degree! Have you been diagnosed?
Hollinger: When I was two days old, I stopped breathing. My mom and dad panicked; they didn’t know what happened. Doctors didn’t know either. But I had really, really bad acid reflux from my allergic reaction to my mom’s breast milk. I continued to have allergic reactions to food and when I was about two years old, they finally did blood and food testing, and found out that I had an anaphylactic reaction to 95 percent of all food. And then when I was three and a half, I got my feeding tube placed, because I “failed to thrive”-weighing about 25 pounds at that point. I was really skinny and I wasn’t getting my nutrition, because I couldn’t eat anything.
Martirosyan: Are on a liquid diet?
Hollinger: I can eat some things now and that’s why I got the feeding tube, because they put formulas into that, which helped me grow and kept me alive. I can eat the 5 percent of foods that I’m not allergic to: chicken, rice, potatoes, turkey and beef. I can have a good amount of food. My favorite thing is potatoes. I put them in everything. And the only allergies I ever outgrew were milk and dairy, so I can have, like, chocolate; that’s my favorite. It’s my little treat. When everyone else, like, at birthday parties is eating cake, I’ll be in the corner with my Hershey’s bar. And they always want my stuff, and I’m like, “But you can have the cake!” The grass always looks greener on the other side.
Martirosyan: So what keeps you going?
Hollinger: My faith in God, my family and the support of my friends. I have two mottos. The first is: believe fearlessly. Never give up on a dream because it can happen. I was six when I stepped out on that ice, and I never would have thought that it would turn into this dream that I love so much. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m so happy and blessed to have this sport. My other motto is: You don’t live to eat; you eat to live. Any way that you can get your nutrition is good.
I’ve met other kids with food allergies and they’ve taught me a lot about handling everyday things. They inspire me.
Martirosyan: Do you follow a set schedule for nourishment?
Hollinger: When I was little, I had a feeding pump, so I was on the formula 24/7. As I got older, it became harder, because I didn’t want to have a pump on my back when I skated. That’s when I started doing gravity feed, where I hook my tube up and pour formula down into my stomach. I do that about four times a day. So this goes on throughout the day, like breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll normally need extra formula before school because I’m so exhausted from skating. But afterwards, I definitely have more energy; it’s just like after eating a big meal.
I have a sweet tooth. Mainly I eat Hershey’s bars. Hershey’s actually built a wall in their facility to separate nut products from milk products, so thank goodness they did that because now I can have chocolate bars. (laughs)
Martirosyan: How did your allergies reveal themselves?
Hollinger: My doctors have done a lot of studies and they’re still researching food allergies, because it’s a growing problem. I think there are about 15 million Americans with food allergies. It’s funny because I tend not to have allergies to the things that I eat a lot, but then one day I can wake up, eat one of them and be allergic. Like, I used to have tomato all the time. I would eat tomato sauce on my spaghetti or ketchup on French fries. And then one day I was eating a cheese pizza, and I had a really bad reaction. Ever since, my lips swell whenever I eat tomato. We had blood testing done, and sure enough I was allergic to tomato.
Martirosyan: Do you have a variety of reactions?
Hollinger: I have different reactions to different things, I’m deathly, deathly allergic to any type of nut or seed, eggs, soy and pork. When it comes to nuts, even breathing them or touching them makes my face swell up, the worst part is that my throat swells up and I stop breathing. I’ve almost lost my life eight times, which was terrifying.
I’m really careful about not ever eating something I’m allergic to; I check labels and ask chefs what’s in a dish to be sure. One of my worst reactions happened at the rink when I came for a skating lesson with my coach; all of a sudden I started feeling like I was going to pass out. I can only guess that what happened was I touched the music player and then wiped my eye and one of the other girls, who had eaten a brownie with nuts, touched the music player before I did. A few minutes later I was on the ground and the paramedics were working on me.
My mom gave me my EpiPen—a shot of epinephrine—to revive me. It was hard because the rink has always been my safe zone. So when all of a sudden it wasn’t, that took a lot to get over, but I came back the next day and was like, “This is not going to be ruined. This is my happy place!” Now, before I touch the music player or the wall, I wipe it down with a wet wipe, so I don’t come in contact with any food or nut residue that could be on it.
Martirosyan: Bacteria doesn’t thrive as well in cold environments, do you think this is why the ice works for you?
Hollinger: Yeah, that’s what we thought when I started skating at six. I had convinced my mom to take me to an ice skating class. My dad was skeptical. “I think she should try it, but let’s be careful,” he said. He was really worried that I was going to fall on my stomach and hurt my tube or something. And the doctors were just like, “No, never. You’re not doing that.” I was like, “Why?” I wanted to skate so badly. I watched Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen on TV during the 2003 world competition, and I remember giving my mom a look like: “I want to do that.” And then one day I did. (laughs)
Martirosyan: Michelle and Sasha are your idols in the figure skating world?
Hollinger: For sure. And Joannie Rochette, she skates for Canada, she really inspired me too, because her mom passed away right before she went to the Olympics and she had to skate through that, it was the most inspiring thing I’d ever seen. She had tears coming down her face during her performance and she conquered that. It showed me that no matter what you’re going through, no matter what your trial is, you can overcome it. The ice is such a good place to get it all out of you.
Martirosyan: How far do you plan on taking this?
Hollinger: I’m currently third in my region after competing last September in Arizona. I trained all season and landed my double jumps and I was so happy. It was fun to fly there with three of my best friends and though we compete against each other, we’re still so supportive of each other. I think this sport can be really difficult because we’re a bunch of girls the same age, going for the same titles, in the same competitions. I try to stay away from those thoughts, though. Now, my goal is to get more double jumps, work on my double axels, and then maybe some day to go to nationals and the Olympics.
Martirosyan: What else do you enjoy?
Hollinger: I’m a singer and I love performing in my church.
Martirosyan: How long have you been singing?
Hollinger: My whole life, but I didn’t actually start taking vocal training or vocal lessons until a year and a half ago. My grandpa sang opera and my grandma’s a concert pianist, so I’ve grown up around music. My grandpa’s actually in charge of all the music for Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. He transitioned from opera to gospel, bringing the opera into gospel. My grandma plays and my grandpa sings, and they have recorded a few CDs. Sometimes I get to sing with them in church.
Martirosyan: Do you ever think about taking part in singing competitions?
Hollinger: Yeah. I actually auditioned for The Voice a year ago. It was hard, because I went in and I guess they had viewed a video of me singing before. They said, “You’re going through. They just need to review your audition.” So I came in, had my cowboy boots on and gave it all I had. They said that they really loved my voice and my style of music, but it wasn’t what they were looking for for the show.
Fortunately, it wasn’t one of those cattle calls, where it’s like, “Number 205,” and you just start singing. I’d heard that’s what some shows are like. The Voice was actually a good experience, because I’d never auditioned for singing before, the producer was really nice, and everyone in the room clapped for everyone else.
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