Famous Athletes with Asthma
Asthma didn't stop these athletes from achieving great success.
Athletes with Asthma
It may seem like athletes and asthma can’t coexist. After all, athletes need a robust supply of oxygen when they’re exercising, training, and performing. Meanwhile, asthma can make breathing difficult. In fact, exercise is one of the most common triggers for an allergy attack.
Fortunately for these athletes, an asthma diagnosis wasn’t career-ending news. These football players, track stars, and swimmers have been able to break records and beat their disease. The following slides profile just a few athletes who are among the nearly 26 million Americans living with asthma.
As a basketball and track athlete at UCLA, Jackie Joyner-Kersee was diagnosed with severe asthma. Afraid the diagnosis would affect her athletic standing, Joyner-Kersee kept the diagnosis from her coaches. In an interview with NIH MedlinePlus, Joyner-Kersee says she was finally able to get healthy and learn to handle her disease when she stopped living in denial.
Joyner-Kersee went on to win three Olympic gold medals and one silver medal. She was later named Sports Illustrated’s Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century—all while living with asthma.
Amy Van Dyken
As a young child, Amy Van Dyken was diagnosed with severe asthma. Her doctors suggested she take up a sport as a way to strengthen her lungs and prevent future asthma attacks. At age six, Van Dyken decided she wanted to be a swimmer. The Colorado native became a very successful swimmer despite her asthma. She went on to win six gold medals at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games.
It’s one thing to compete with asthma—exercise-induced asthma is one of the most common triggers for an asthma attack. It’s another to compete with asthma as well as another condition that prevents you from full, complete breathing. That’s exactly the hurdle that American swimmer and Olympic medalist Tom Dolan faced and conquered.
Dolan has asthma and a partially-blocked windpipe. Despite these two impediments, he was able to become a successful swimmer and compete on the world’s biggest stages.
English marathon runner and Olympic athlete Paula Radcliffe began what would become a lifelong passion when she was seven years old. She started running. Then, at age 14, she was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. That diagnosis didn’t stop the future world record holder from lacing up her running shoes. She’s since competed in four separate Olympic Games and won gold at the World Finals in 2005.
Football players sometimes face tough opponents off the field, too. Former Pittsburgh Steeler and Super Bowl champion Jerome Bettis was diagnosed with asthma when he was 15. In an interview with USA Today, Bettis says he was worried he’d never be able to play sports again. His parents encouraged him to stick with his doctor’s treatment plans so he could be as active as he wanted.
After a successful high school career, Bettis attended college and played football at the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted into the NFL in 1993 and played for the Los Angeles Rams and then the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Central York Aquatics
Peter Vanderkaay has swam alongside and competed with one of the greatest American swimmers, Michael Phelps. Together, they won gold in the 2008 Beijing Games. This is a remarkable feat that’s even more inspiring when you learn that Vanderkaay has asthma. When he was 10, he began experiencing asthmatic symptoms and was later diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. He takes medications daily to help control his lungs so that he can continue to enjoy his time in the pool.
Don't Let Asthma Limit You
As these athletes and hundreds of others can attest, an asthma diagnosis isn’t the end of the road for your competitive dreams. In fact, it may be just the beginning. The key to competing is learning how to control your asthma, prevent attacks, avoid triggers, and treat the symptoms that do occur. With your doctor’s help, you can be as active as you dream.