Asthmatic athletes take extra precautions to avoid disasters

Jessica Wang | Staff Writer

Senoir Swimmer Ashka Shah practices the butterfly during practice. Shah deals with the repercussions of asthma, but commits herself to swimming anyway.

Take a deep breath. 

For people with asthma, this seemingly simple action is not always possible. Asthma is a condition in which a person’s airways (bronchial tubes), become swollen when triggered. As a result, the individual may wheeze, cough, and have difficulty breathing. And for many, this chronic disease fires up due to physical activity, making sports a difficult passion to pursue.

Senior Ashka Shah, a 4-year varsity simmer, has had to deal with asthma her entire life. With practices 9 times a week, Shah said that she has had to take special precautions to ensure that she is able to breath whenever she’s in the pool.

“Sometimes, if I feel the air in the pool is not that great because of the chlorine, then I take my inhaler preemptively,” Shah said. “Sometimes, if I feel that I can’t breath, then I have to get out of the pool and take my inhaler. On travel meets, if I sleep where it’s dusty, my asthma kicks up. Then, the next day at the meet I’m wheezing a lot.”   

Despite these struggles, Shah has been able to have a swimming career during her entire high school experience. In fact, Shah said dealing with asthma was a significant factor when she chose this sport, but stuck with it regardless. 

“Whenever I ran too much or ran for long distances, I tended to wheeze a lot,” Shah said. “Then, I couldn’t breathe because of my asthma. So, in 7th grade I had to choose between soccer and swimming and one of the reasons why I chose swimming is because I didn’t have to run as much.” 

While asthma ended her soccer career, Shah remained focused and determined, allowing her to ultimately become a district-qualifying swimmer. Similarly, Senior Janae Bacchus was forced to give up soccer due to her asthma. Bacchus said that it was not only the extensive running, but also a lack of support from teammates and coaches that ultimately pushed her to stop playing. 

“I quit soccer just because it got to be a lot of running and I would struggle a lot,” Bacchus said. “And people weren’t exactly nice or sympathetic. So I struggled because my teammates were really mean and unsympathetic towards my asthma. With my last team, coaches really only care for so long. It got to the point where I was struggling so much that I was getting worse and they got annoyed because we were losing.” 

For Bacchus, however, asthma was not just physically taxing; it was mentally taxing as well. Bacchus said that knowing she would struggle with the sport took a toll on her internal drive to continue playing, especially since she didn’t want to risk making a bad situation worse. 

“Sometimes, when we did conditioning at the beginning of the season when I played soccer, it was really, really hot outside, and the whole thing with conditioning is it’s just a lot of distance running.” Bacchus said. “And that was not my vibe because of asthma. So I think there was a lot of teenage angst and self-confidence. When I’d be so far behind and it’s hot outside and that makes my breathing worse and then I’d stress out.” 

Forgoing soccer, Bacchus decided to take on track and field. With its short distance running, this endeavor made it easier for her to maintain her breathing. Unlike her soccer days, Bacchus said she has experienced a much more empathetic environment running track. Unfortunately, she said that she still struggles with the mental challenges introduced by asthma, but is persevering to work past them.

“I don’t think I am as mentally strong as physically strong,” Bacchus said. “So once I started struggling with my breathing, it just kind of spiraled into everything. Like, ‘oh maybe I’m not that good of an athlete,’ and then self-doubt and stress. But also high school Janae doesn’t sleep until 2am and she doesn’t eat breakfast and she doesn’t drink water. So there’s a lot of reasons why I struggled more than I should’ve with track, but then added with the asthma it was just a big mental block. Still, asthma definitely made me a stronger person and it has helped me persevere through challenges in both athletics and life.” 

Photo by Henri Robbins.