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Our new ambassador and rally car champ - ​Dave Holder

Venture under the hood with rally car champ Dave Holder who talks candidly about diagnosis, diet and some unplanned PIT STOPS!

Prior to his coeliac diagnosis, champion New Zealand rally car driver Dave Holder would refuse food on race days to avoid unwanted pit stops.

While he didn’t understand what caused the frequent stomach upsets, he knew eating made it worse.

“And rallying is all on the clock so you can’t afford to stop and go to the toilet,” he says.

Coeliac New Zealand’s newest ambassador is disarmingly frank about the affect gluten had on his life before specialists explained what was making him unwell. And he has no qualms about milking his earlier misfortune for comic relief.

“I’ve got some pretty funny poo stories,” the 29-year-old Mount Maunganui sportsman says. "I went for a run one night and didn’t make it home in one piece. I was about five metres from the gate when I exploded.”

He laughs before launching into a graphic, hilarious description of exactly why it was a bad idea to hold his buttock cheeks together with both hands.

But discovering he had the disease was no joke. Aside from the on-going gut issues, he had struggled to gain weight and was often grumpy and tired by the time physiotherapist wife Adina insisted he see a doctor seven years ago. When a blood test and endoscopy confirmed what medics suspected, Dave was reluctant to believe it.

“I instantly thought about all the foods I couldn’t eat, I’d never eat M&Ms again. I thought I’d be seen as a bit weird, being a guy whose gluten free, and all the stigma around it being a bit of a fad for young girls.”

And he wondered what on earth to eat, given loaves of bread and bags of buns were a staple food.

However, when Adina and his sister Rachel offered to ditch gluten from their diets if he would, Dave couldn’t refuse.

The early days were tough, with occasional forays off the prescribed path that made him sicker than ever. Like most coeliacs, he learned to read labels for hidden gluten and discovered the hard way that public eateries could be a dietary minefield. Once, it was the seasoning on an order of wedges that made him sick. Another time, his exceptional careful wife bought ham at the supermarket without realising it contained gluten.

A visit to a sport nutritionist helped set him on the right track. Consequently, he has more energy, far fewer dashes to the toilet and the formerly ‘basic meat and three veg’ eater is enjoying a much wider range of cuisine.

“The big thing is I’ve put on a bit of weight. I’ve always been quite skinny and I’ve gained 5kg now I’ve got a bit of nutrition in me.”
The mechanical engineer was diagnosed at age 23, three years into his competitive rally car driving career, as he was dreaming of joining the world racing circuit. The Invercargill farm boy learned to drive a tractor at age five and spent his teenage years watching older brother James race cars. He and Adina moved north to the Bay of Plenty in 2012 so he could pursue the sport and, by 2016, he had taken the Rally New Zealand national title.

Dave will spend much of this year competing overseas and fundraising as he travels, with Adina alongside as tour manager, public relations officer, food researcher, personal physiotherapist and chief supporter. Following a warm-up in Poland at the start of this year, he and co-driver Jason Farmer will tick off Junior World Rally Championship rallies in Sweden, Corsica, Portugal and Finland before heading to Turkey in September. They are the first New Zealanders to qualify for the international event.

Dave has to be especially careful with his diet while travelling and left Auckland Airport – he finds airport food offerings especially problematic - with several loaves of gluten-free Vogels bread and packets of bliss balls tucked into his suitcase. Travel requires extra planning and research but it has brought joys, too, like the discovery of a gluten free bakery in Florence that sold everything from baguettes to pastries.

“Wherever I am, race day and the week leading up to it are all about not doing anything new. A belly full of nerves is bad enough without a food reaction.”

Several friends have been diagnosed with coeliac disease in recent years, as well as a couple of family members and he is able to empathise with the challenges – difficulty ordering meals in restaurants, the expense of buying specialty foods - but offers reassurance, too.

“I tell them, it’s not the end of the world. This is pretty low in the list of things you can have wrong with you.”