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On the Coast Magazine

Drifting out of Adversity

08/30/2013 09:52AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

Most of us live for the mountaintop experiences in life: the promotion, the sale, finding “the one,” and so on. Life can be full of ups like these. Adversely, it can also be full of downs. Author Helen Keller expressed this when she wrote, “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” Alec Hohnadell was a young, successful jet ski racer when he learned the hard way about the dark valley experiences in life.

In fact, Alec overcame such huge obstacles OTC featured him in our March/April 2011 issue. At the time, he was on top of his racing career capturing awards left and right. To some, he may have appeared as another young prodigy. In reality, he was a gifted ‘tween forced to face adverse circumstances. The obstacle that leveled his career was Chari Malformation; a brain disorder which occurs when part of the skull is abnormal in size or shape. A person with this disorder must live a low-key existence free from action. Inaction protects them from trauma that could be debilitating. The diagnosis halted Alec’s racing career and reduced him to isolation. He had to be homeschooled and monitored.

Alec’s parents, Gale and Kim Hohnadell, helped him get his racing career back. They consulted Dr. Feldstein, a neurological surgeon at Columbia University in New York, whose professional opinion gave Alec permission to race again. From there, Alec was back at it and on his way up another mountain. He won the IJSBA World Championship by age 16. He returned to mainstream school and was talking to Hollywood about auditioning for a water version of the Fast and Furious. Alec’s future looked like a dream. He was enjoyed the view from the top, and then life pulled him back down again. This time, however, Alec did not know if he would climb back up. “I’ve felt pretty low sometimes like I wanted to give up.” So, what crushed him to hopelessness? An unidentified illness.

In the spring of 2010, Alec noticed constant symptoms like a sore throat and headache. Then, tonsil stones came from infection. Eventually, the sickness led to respiratory problems, difficulty breathing, vertigo, elevated blood pressure, hearing loss, visual disturbances, loss of memory, and other various symptoms. Alec’s parents leapt into action, again. They took him on a tour of doctors from Ft. Walton to Panama City with many stops in between. However, they walked away empty-handed. “Alec had some abnormalities but they offered no diagnosis,” Kim said as she retraced the journey.

The symptoms progressed and Alec’s parents were desperate. “To see our son getting sick was a parent’s worst nightmare,” says Gale. “He went from the youngest professional athlete in the world in his sport and on top of his game, to being bedridden with ice packs on his head and an oxygen bottle beside his bed. It was heartbreaking.” Their love for Alec pushed them on. “We had no choice but to keep going because we promised to never give up on Alec,” Kim said. They searched for an answer at famous healing hospitals such as Shand’s, UAB, and Columbia Hospital in New York. They visited specialists trained in alternative medicine, too, who offered some hope. They targeted physical wholeness. “We tried an approach to improve his overall health such as vitamin IV infusions, glutathione IV infusions, oxygen therapy, sauna therapy, organic vegetable juicing, detoxification therapy and other alternative treatments,” Kim says. They wanted to get his body as healthy as possible to fight the unknown illness.

By this time, Alec was barely hanging on. “I was at the very bottom with my sickness and I felt horrible each day,” he recalls. He was managing emotional pain as well because it appeared his racing career was over. Once again, sickness was stealing his life. “I had doctor visits every day.” Alec kept moving forward. Although it looked hopeless, deep down, something nudged him on. “I just never felt it was completely over.” Alec did not give up. And neither did his parents. They couldn’t because everyone was counting on them. “The whole family was falling into a deep state of depression,” says Kim. Day-to-day life became unbearable. “We found our daily attitude would depend upon how Alec felt.” They went as far as Europe for help but at the end of it all, their search brought them full circle back home. They had been asking physicians - by now they had visited nearly thirty - to run tests that could unveil Alec’s illness. Finally, a local doctor ran the tests. Two weeks later, this weakened family had an answer. “Alec had a toxic level of petrochemicals that were determined to be from the oil spill and dispersants,” Kim explains. The family was saddened by the results yet relieved to understand. “We were so depressed every time we would visit another doctor who could offer no answers.” A diagnosis meant a chance for a cure and cure meant they could have their lives back.

The Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas specializing in treating patients with chemical poisoning confirmed the diagnosis and initiated treatments. Alec underwent treatment eight hours a day, six days a week. It was difficult for the entire family and even involved a temporary move. However, they endured it because Alec was on the road to healing. With that, it was only a matter of time before he started racing again.

“Alec decided to go watch a local car drifting event and actually rode in one of the race cars last summer,” Gale says. Drifting looks like an uncontrollable, sideways skid. For most, this skid would lead to heart-stopping panic, leaving the driver deciding whether to cut the steering wheel left or right to recover. But Alec thinks it is fun. “You have a full course set up and two people go together. You can't pass the guy in front of you.” He compares it to Freestyle Motocross. “He's right in front of me (his competitor) and we go together. You want to get as close to him as possible and cause him to lose his focus which causes him to mess up,” Alec says with friendly antagonism.

With treatments down to bi-monthly check-ups, Alec is ready to dominate Drift Racing. The premiere sport allows only a handful of new racers each year and releases low-performing, old racers. “Alec will earn his Pro Racing license in Formula Drift this September and will have the distinction of being the youngest professional racer in Formula Drift,” Gale says proudly. He is already competing in the Streetwise Pro Am Series which is considered the most exclusive series supporting Formula Drift in the states. Drivers must finish in one of the top four spots of this five-round competition in order to compete in the professional division. Alec is already sitting in first place over halfway through the competition.

Alec and his family get through adversity together. “It has been a family effort and everyone has made sacrifices to be able to allow Alec to reach for his star,” Gale insists. Now that he is healing, Alec is thankful for everyone who got him through and is pursuing his passion again. That is what got him here. “I knew I would find a way to race again,” he says with restrained enthusiasm.

His family supports his ambition. “Alec aspires to be the best drift car racer in the world and we will support him in his quest to realize his dream,” says Gale. No matter what comes their way, Gale knows they are not alone. “Our faith in God has become much, much stronger due to all of this,” he believes. “This has confirmed our faith so much more.”


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