Star Athletes With Asthma
If they can do it...
But the record books are filled with athletes who overcame asthma on their way to victory. Some developed asthma as children; others were already at the top of their game. Either way, asthma didn’t stop them from success on the track, field, court—or in the pool.
Even after a doctor diagnosed her with asthma, Joyner-Kersee didn’t take her medication consistently—and as a result she suffered a life-threatening asthma attack years later. "I finally learned I had to respect asthma as much as I would an opponent,” Joyner-Kersee told Sports Illustrated for Women, which in 2000 named her the top female athlete of all time.
Amy Van Dyken
It was slow-going at first—Van Dyken couldn’t swim 100 meters until she was a teenager—but with the help of a regimen of medications (and despite frequent asthma attacks), Van Dyken crawled her way to the top of her sport. She won four gold medals at the Athens Olympics and collected two more in Sydney four years later.
Bettis once suffered an asthma attack during a 1997 game played in extreme heat and humidity in Jacksonville, Fla. "Imagine someone putting a plastic bag over your head," Bettis told USA Today of the experience. Bettis dragged himself to the sidelines, was treated with a shot and a nebulizer, and eventually returned to the game.
But that’s what British long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe has done—seven times. The current world record holder in the marathon, Radcliffe was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma as a teenager, shortly after she began training seriously.
"I always take my reliever inhaler before and after I run, and am extra careful when I have a cold, as that can make the symptoms more severe," Radcliffe told a UK newspaper in a 2004 interview.
Rodman’s accomplishments are especially notable because sports such as basketball that require endurance and sustained exertion with few opportunities to rest tend to be more challenging for asthmatics (compared to, say, baseball or tennis).
In late 2007, Henin announced that she might not defend her gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to concerns about the city’s notorious pollution. (Traffic exhaust and other airborne irritants can exacerbate symptoms and trigger asthma attacks.) Henin never made it to Beijing; in early 2008 she surprised the tennis world by announcing her retirement.
Now he monitors his asthma daily, but he doesn't let it hold him back.
“I remember being a little bit worried, early on, that I wouldn’t be able to keep swimming,” Vanderkaay told Health.com. “But once I found the right long-term action plan, I was able to get where I am today. My doctor, parents, and I worked as a team so that I could continue training.”