As an athlete, there are just as many setbacks as there are gains. Some we can control with proper training and over time, others we have no control over whatsoever and swear that Zeus himself cast a curse to forever roll rocks up hills. For me, I stumbled—rather, choked—upon one that I didn’t even know existed.
I didn’t grow up with asthma. It wasn’t until going into my second season of roller derby that I started to have real trouble breathing. At first, I didn’t know what was wrong. There were a few times during my first season where I thought I was either not warmed up enough or conditioned to jump in the game off the bench cold. The next year—during pre-season—while beginning to attend regular speed practices, I found myself constantly gasping for air, thinking that my conditioning was not up to par. When I found myself choking for air and coughing non-stop just to be able to swallow, my captain sat me down and asked if I had asthma. That is when I went to see my doctor and was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma (EIC).
Exercise Induced Asthma is defined as the narrowing of airways causing difficulty moving air out the lungs during exercise. There are additional triggers that can set it off, which I pretty much was exposed to all the time. Allergies played a huge part, more than I knew, so in addition to seeing my regular physician, I saw an allergist. Dry air was also a contributor, as preseason started late fall and went through the dead of winter, I had every element against me.
How I Broke Through
I am not a health expert. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe what will work as every person is different and reacts differently to environmental and physical factors. But I can tell you how I managed to do it.
1. I listen to my doctor.
When I first starting having problems, it was my best and most accurate move to find the root of it all. Now that I listen to my regular physician, I also follow my allergist’s advice as well. My allergist brought to light that I am severely allergic to everything in the natural world—every seasonal allergy, dust mites, cats … you name it. (I literally could be the Grandmaster for the Allergy Pride Parade.) Since having found out which allergens affect me the most, a plan is in place for when I need to absolutely use certain medications and when I can ease off them depending on what season it was. I eventually cut down on multiple aides once I had control (I was on an albuterol inhaler, a nasal spray and an oral pill—in addition to a steroid-based inhaler) but I had no idea what worked and what didn’t until I was able to rule out major triggers.
2. I keep it consistent.
I couldn’t stop a routine just because I thought I was having a good day. I also hated the fact that I now had 4 different and particularly expensive medicines to control one problem. But It was the presence of persistence and discipline that gives me control. With medications keeping triggers at bay, endurance and stamina training was also built into my regular schedule. My biggest problems burst to the surface when I reach my highest intensity and heart rate, so when I train at that level in a controlled setting, I am able to scale back how much I have to reach for my inhaler during activity. This also came in handy when I had a regular rotation in the roster and needed to stay on the track.
3. I make others aware and don't feel ashamed when I need a break.
That first year of learning to control my asthma, my captain came up with a signal for me to use for when I had hit my limit and would sit me until I recovered. It kept me out of danger and kept my teammates aware as well. I knew I was in a safe place when everyone was aware. Even when I was ignoring my own signals and wanting to push harder, there was a level of accountability that kept me in check. I learned never keep it to myself, even when I thought I was being a wimp and I knew I wasn’t alone. (Almost half my team was asthmatic, Team Puff Puff). There is a distinct difference between excuse and reason and the inability to breathe is not an excuse by any means.
Knowing my limitations kept me from getting set back by taking the time to focus on how to work with them. It took some time and a lot of patience to figure it out but it was worth it. If only it were as easy as: inhale, exhale, repeat.
Read more about breathing, exercise and asthma:
The Art of Breathing | via Hockey Training Pro
Star Athletes with Asthma | via Health
Asthma and Exercise | via AAAAI