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Utah Utes gymnastics: Allergic reaction can't stop Breanna Hughes

By Melissa Yack

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, April 14 2013 11:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., proved to be a little more exciting than Utah gymnast Breanna Hughes expected.

The freshman, who was ecstatic to be competing in her first regional, found herself finishing her two events and then missing the rest of the meet because of an allergic reaction.

Hughes has been a rock on bars and beam for the Red Rocks, not counting a fall in her debut season. But, she admitted the allergic reaction was something that scared and challenged her as much as anything.

"I really just didn't know what to do but knew it was something more than the cold I had been battling — my eyes were burning so bad. When I checked them in the mirror, I immediately ran to my trainer Katie (Lorens)."

That's when Lorens grabbed the meet doctors, who took Hughes to the locker room to give her medicine and monitor her. Hughes said she was grateful her trainer provided her updates about the close meet that saw Utah earn its 32nd trip to the NCAA Championships this coming weekend.

"The day was so exciting and I was really nervous," admitted Hughes. "I just hated not being able to see my teammates compete, but at the same time also wasn't sure how bad my reaction was."

Hughes said the reaction took her off guard because she never expected to have a reaction during a meet. The Minnesota native prides herself on being very careful on flights, at restaurants and anywhere else — even thinking of herself a burden sometimes. Hughes suspects she touched a peanut somehow during Utah's bye to begin the meet, and then exposed herself again later when she laid down to rest during the reaction. There were snacks provided for the gymnasts.

"I heard afterward that she wasn't seeing great, which was not a lovely thing to be experiencing on the beam," said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden, who admitted she has learned a lot about food allergies after the experience. "It's crazy that she competed, but really Bree's been tough like that all season."

Hughes' nut allergy diagnosis came when she was just 12 months old, with peanuts causing anaphylactic shock if ingested. She's the only one in her family to have a food allergy so the situation was unfamiliar.

"There was a long period of education, practicing asking what was in food when we went out, and making sure we carried the EpiPen everywhere," said Hughes' mom Michelle Hunger. "When she was little, she was always with me and I could make sure she was OK. But as she got older and was away from me more, I worried more about her."

But even with the worry, Hunger admits her daughter's dream was always to be a Red Rock, so there was never a second thought to her attending college far away. Gymnastics is a family sport, with Hughes' dad, Mike Hunger, serving as her coach since she was 7 years old.

Michelle Hunger admits the nut allergy has always been tough because gymnastics is such a high performance sport and requires gymnasts to eat a lot of protein — nuts being an easy solution. So the family was always challenged to find different snacks for meets. The Hungers just never figured a reaction would occur during the meet. But Michelle also admitted there was something nice about being able to be there and hearing her college-aged daughter say, 'Mom, I'm glad you're here.'

It's estimated 15 million Americans have a food allergy according to Food Allergy Research & Education organization.

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