Did you know you can be allergic to the cold?
I didn’t either, until I showed up for school one day covered in hives.
It was ninth grade, it was freezing out, and I was walking to school. After I arrived, took off my coat, and settled into my first class, something felt… weird. Like the skin was tightening all over my face. And, judging by the horrified looks from my classmates, my skin looked weird, too.
I went to the washroom and saw that my face was covered in hives. I looked like the Elephant Man. I stayed at school but was extremely uncomfortable.
By second period the hives had gone away – the only remaining growths on my face were those typical of a 15-year-old boy. The experience left me confused and embarrassed, though.
After walking back through the cold home for lunch, the hives returned. Now I was freaking out. I called my parents at work so they could come home and take me to the doctor.
Cold urticaria is what they called it.
It’s a skin condition where coldness causes the release of histamine into the blood. Essentially an allergic reaction to the cold. Cold weather or cold water can cause it, and it results in the breakout of hives.
I’d never heard of it. And I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce it. But I had it, and I didn’t like it. High School was tough enough without being the kid that’s allergic to the cold.
Looking cool didn’t matter anymore. Wearing a big winter coat and neck warmer was fine with me. Anything to stay warm. Anything to keep the hives away.
Thankfully I grew out of it. In fact, don’t recall having another reaction after that winter. But the experience taught me to hate the cold.
For years I avoided cold weather. As best I could while living in -40°C Saskatchewan, anyway. The cold didn’t like me. I didn’t like it. We had an understanding, and it worked.
Everything was fine, until my early twenties.
I was volunteering for a business plan competition. Each participant had to describe their business idea and sell us on it before moving on to the next round.
The participant I was interviewing was a kiteboarder. His business was kiteboarding related and he wanted to get more people in Saskatchewan kiteboarding.
Kiteboarding is kind of like wakeboarding or snowboarding. Only, instead of being pulled by a boat or sliding down a mountain, you use a giant kite to propel you. So wind is important.
During his pitch, he said something along the lines of: “Why would you live in the windiest place on earth if you can’t get out and enjoy it?”
That’s right… Not only is Saskatchewan one of the coldest places on earth, but it’s also one of the windiest. No wonder real estate is so expensive here.
We shared a laugh over his comment. But the guy had a point. Why would anyone live somewhere where they can’t enjoy being outside?
Obviously I had to ask. Why did I choose to live somewhere where I can’t enjoy being outside nearly half the year?
Suddenly, my “understanding” with the cold no longer made sense. It felt more like a punishment than an agreement. I realized I either had to move somewhere warm or learn to get out and enjoy the cold.
And seeing as moving wasn’t an option, it looked like the cold and I were going to get to know each other a bit better.
While hesitant at first, I eventually eased my way into being outside in the winter. I started with cold weather walks with our shepherd cross, Buck.
Walking Buck when the weather was nice was no problem. But I always told myself it was “too cold for him” when the weather dropped. After my conversation with the kiteboarder, I realized I was lying to myself.
Though they were cold, I began enjoying our hikes through the snow. We started going for longer, more frequent walks together.
The crisp, cool air actually felt good and I liked the sound of snow crunching under our feet. We were having fun, and my face wasn’t covered in hives.
This was good.
Buck and I learned that we were able to head out in basically any weather. As long as we dressed for it and kept moving, we were fine. It turned out that all that time spent avoiding the cold weather was wasted. We could have been outside, enjoying ourselves.
I learned that the cold only sucked because I thought it did.
After finding a way to enjoy it, my perspective changed. The cold, actually, was pretty nice.
When I look back, I see I’ve made the same mistake more than once. I’ve let preconceived notions prevent me from success, happiness, and reaching my best.
Reading sucked, because I thought it did.
Aerobic training sucked, because I thought it did.
Eating vegetables sucked, because I thought it did.
I was wrong. And I’m happy to admit that.
As I’ve grown as an athlete, being able to enjoy the cold has become invaluable. For years now, I’ve spent time outdoors training in all types of weather.
These days, I refuse to let something like cold weather prevent me from reaching my goals or living my life.
Our new dog, Benji, and I have shared hundreds of miles in the cold this winter. We’ve had a few adventures and have bonded like a dog and his owner should.
I can’t even imagine being cooped up indoors all winter anymore. The cold weather I used to hate now makes me feel alive.
The beautiful feeling of a heavy ruck on my back and cold, crisp winter air in my face is one I’d never had experienced had I not pushed myself past my ignorant preconception.
The cold never sucked. I did.
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