Rich Julason Jr., 35, originally from Philadelphia, never had any health problems growing up. However, when he moved to Los Angeles, he found the infamous L.A. smog was a problem; within six months, he had asthma symptoms. Despite his breathing difficulties, Julason started competing in triathlons—even though training in chlorinated swimming pools can trigger his asthma attacks. Now, he works full-time in medical device sales and runs his own triathlon weight-loss program.

By As told to: Sarah Klein
February 29, 2016

Ive moved around the country quite a bit. One thing Ive learned is that some parts of the country seem to be worse for my health than others. I had no breathing problems at all when I was growing up in Philadelphia. Then about 12 years ago, I moved to California. After living in Los Angeles for only six months, I started having tightness in my chest and difficulty taking a deep breath. I saw my doctor, who prescribed an albuterol inhaler to relax my airways. That seemed to take care of it.

When I left L.A. for Seattle, I wasnt having any symptoms. And, in general, my symptoms were under control the entire time I was living in the Pacific Northwest, so I didnt need any medication at all.

Then about seven years ago I moved again—this time to New York City. Unfortunately, my symptoms came back. It wasnt just poor air quality that was giving me trouble; it was also allergies. I found that I was especially allergic to cats. They triggered full-on wheezing.

I started my own triathlon training program
Despite my asthma symptoms, Ive been able to stay very active. While I was living in California, I decided to try a triathlon—it was something I had always wanted to do. I would show up for mini-distance races and come in last, but I always knew I would do another one. For the five years I lived on the West Coast, I did shorter-distance triathlons.

Once I got to New York, I did my first half-Ironman. I thought Id lose weight, but I actually gained some weight in the midsection while training. The mainstream idea of “fitness” is based on how you look in the mirror; thats different than the level of fitness you need for your best triathlon performance.

About four years ago I decided to start Simply Tri, a program that promotes weight loss through triathlon training. The triathlon world is dominated by hard-core runners, and I felt there was a need for coaches who didnt come from that endurance background. I have three other coaches and we work with about 100 people now.

I see obesity as the biggest health threat in this country, so starting this program and helping people who are trying to lose weight is my way of giving back. I coach part-time and also train for my own triathlons. Depending on the year, Ill compete in anywhere from 6 to 10 races.

Next Page: I take medication when Im training
[ pagebreak ]I take medication when Im training
As for my asthma, I now take the antihistamine Zyrtec to tame my allergies, and the prescription medicine Singulair to prevent my asthma symptoms.

I know some people who have asthma so bad that they have to carry their inhaler with them to go running. Mine doesnt seem to be that bad, and my symptoms come and go in fits. The problem is, right now, chlorine is the only irritant that really triggers my asthma symptoms for me. And how can I train for triathlons without swimming?

When Im training, I swim three or four times a week, for three or four months out of the year. It takes only one or two sessions in a pool for me to have symptoms afterward. Even though I always shower to get the chlorine off my body, my asthma will kick in about two or three hours after my swim.

I know asthma medications work best if you keep taking them continuously. Although I do my best to avoid taking my medications when Im not training (and when I am pretty much symptom free), I take Singulair continuously when I am training.

I also use a bronchodilator to manage the symptoms I have during that time. My doctors have told me that if I dont take my medication, my asthma could get worse.