While Indoor Air Quality does not get the media coverage it should, we have all seen its relevance on our television sets for the past few weeks. Roughly 8% of athletes at the London Olympics suffer from asthma. While it might seem extreme to compare the “average” person’s asthma to the best athletes in the world, it is a fact that they, like everyone, struggle with respiratory problems.
Even if you’re not a Superhuman you can live healthily with asthma or dysfunctional breathing. British runner and world record holder Paula Radcliffe developed asthma as a child. Gymnast Daniel Leyva was born with severe asthma as was volleyball phenom Misty May-Treanor. These Olympians have achieved amazing results under tough conditions; they are unphased by their asthma. While you may not even be able to do a cartwheel, you should be able to breathe as easily as them.
It is amazing that these people can overcome their asthma, but why should this be a point of discussion? Everyone should be able to breath freely, and without heroics. Olympians with asthma, however, show that respiratory issues do not only affect children. Many athletes are victims of late onset asthma; they develop the condition as they get older, and this is something about which many people are unaware. Athletes’ asthma can be blamed on cold environments, air pollution, and long term intensive training. Asthmatic skater Kristi Yamaguchi trained for years (in a cold environment), as did cyclist Bradley Wiggins, but these conditions do not account for all cases. Not all athletes breath in the airway-damaging cold air nor the smog-laden London/Beijing fumes. Two months before the London Olympics began the American Lung Association published an article interviewing Peter Vanderkaay, an Olympic swimmer, about his asthma. He explained that “The chemicals in the pool can definitely make a difference in the air quality of an indoor pool. If a pool has too much chlorine, it can have a negative impact on performance. It can also affect people who don’t have asthma because of the caustic nature of the chemicals.”
While there is a lot of media hype about the smog in London (as there was four years ago in Beijing) it is hard to see how the Olympic committee can change the outdoor environment. Smog, weather changes, and chlorine fumes are difficult to control. However, inside is something we can control (the 2000 Sydney Olympics had strict IAQ regulations!).
These athletes win because they make a point to overcome their respiratory issues. Their trade is managing and developing their bodies. You might not be able to spend every waking minute consciously watching your body like an Olympian, but you can overcome respiratory issues and you can be aware of their causes.