Take control of asthma: How one young athlete took back her life – and her sport

  • Taken from the story, A Winning Season
    Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning your Battle Over Shortness of Breath
    ©Copyright Jane M. Martin.  Infinity Publishing, 2003

     

    Read Part II of Jennifer Smith's Story Here

     

    I invited Jennifer Smith, a college student and award-winning tennis player, to share her story at our annual asthma education event. Meeting her for the first time that day, I knew right away that she was someone special. Her broad smile sparkled, and her thick, dark hair bounced as she walked in and offered me her hand. She thanked me for the opportunity to tell her story and expressed hope that it would help at least one person. I had no doubt it would. The audience of over one hundred people was captivated with Jennifer’s confidence, her youthful energy, her humor, and her story of courage and victory. Here, now, is her story, as she told it that day.

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    In my freshman year of college, there were several occasions on which I had difficulty breathing when I was playing tennis, but I brushed it off as being out of shape. However, the problems persisted to the point where I had to stop in the middle of competition because I could not breathe well. I was afraid because I did not understand why this was happening. I was confused because I had been playing competitive tennis for eight years and was a three-sport athlete in high school.  Why now?  I was concerned because I had never had a problem like this before, and now I was concerned enough to seek medical assistance.   

    I went to my primary care doctor who diagnosed the breathing problems as allergy-related, thus I was referred to an allergist. After my visit to the allergist, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. I was shocked! How could this be happening to me?  Thoughts and fears of not being able to exercise or play tennis in college or ever being able play again, raced through my head.  Was this the end of my athletic career?

    I soon discovered that I was not the only one with asthma but that thousands of people and athletes have it and manage it successfully.  I also realized that this was not the end of my tennis career but rather with the proper medication and by following simple management strategies, I could continue to compete.  I also began to reflect on my past and realized that I had experienced the warning signs of asthma long before now. For example, I would often get extremely short of breath during conditioning, wind sprints, and long distance running. I also had a job that exposed me to harsh chemicals and caused me to experience severe breathing problems and illness.  As a result of the intense strain, my pulmonary track was much weaker than before.

    The idea of having asthma was so very foreign to me and initially I really struggled to understand how to use all the new medications I was taking. I was also very embarrassed about having to use my inhalers when I played because I felt like I was showing my opponent a weakness.  I tried to be discrete so no one would know I needed an inhaler.


  • Once I had accepted my diagnosis, it was a challenge for me to learn how to live with asthma, but I slowly became more sensitive to my body and my medications.  I was put on several inhalers: one to prevent inflammation and another to stop breathing problems when they occurred.  The regimen I had established worked very well for me until the fall of my junior year when my health started to steadily deteriorate.  I was having difficulty breathing and, well, even functioning for that matter. Nothing was making me feel better.  

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    So I went back to the allergist and was tested for allergies.  They quickly discovered that I was severely allergic (like off the charts allergic!) to everything on their list except for dogs, saline and feathers – at least there are three things in this world!  As a result, I started on some new medications, took steps to reduce the allergens surrounding me, and started allergy shots.  

    But I still was not getting better. In fact, I was getting worse. It got to the point where I could not function at the normal daily level. I was experiencing a lot of fatigue, chest pain, and had difficulty breathing, preventing me from attending classes, playing tennis and just going about everyday life. My lowest of lows came one day in early February when I was playing a tennis match and had to default because I had an asthma attack on the court! This was very upsetting for me because it happened in front of all my teammates who were equally as scared as I was. I was also upset that I was forced to quit and I felt like I had lost control over my body. I had hit my rock bottom point. Right then and there I decided that I had to beat this thing before it beat me…
     
    To be continued… 


    Read Part II of Jennifer Smith's Story Here

     

    Visit Jane Martin at www.breathingbetterlivingwell.com

     

Published On: April 28, 2008