Posted July 14, 2008 – When Olympian Jeanette Bolden returns to the games next month, she will have accomplished something unprecedented: She will be the first gold-medal track star to return to the Olympics as a head coach.
“I’m so excited,” Bolden says. “It’s a great opportunity to see my Olympic career come full circle.”
But the games will also be a reminder of one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome to get where she is today: being asthmatic, which is something she’s only recently learned how to manage.
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“When I got the job coaching in China I was thrilled – but I was worried about my asthma,” says Jeanette, who had read news coverage of air pollution in Beijing.
Like Jeanette, most of the 20 million Americans with asthma actually have allergic asthma.
Bolden readily admits that Beijing presents some challenges.
While she is confident that Chinese officials have gotten a handle on the area’s notorious pollution problem – a serious problem for anybody but particularly for asthmatics and-athletes. A bigger problem for the athletes in Beijing, whether they have asthma or not, will be the oppressive heat and humidity. Fortunately for her and the track competitors, they’ve had a chance to train in conditions during the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.
Had this opportunity come at another time in her life, those issues might have caused her some consternation.
She’s been asthmatic since birth
Olympic Gold seemed out of reach for a girl who spent much of her childhood in hospital emergency rooms battling allergic asthma and was sent away for months to live in a home for asthmatics.
“I had always felt that my asthma was out of control, and I found myself not doing certain things or going certain places because of it,” says Bolden, who spent much of her childhood in hospital emergency rooms and was sent away for months to live in a home for asthmatics.
That experience was a turning point for young Jeanette, who learned to swim at the home and realized that she could push herself far beyond the limits that worried loved ones had set.
Even so, asthma problems plagued her as an athlete, like when she was in college competing during a week-long NCAA track event at the University of California in Los Angles. She was short of breath and had to take whiffs from her inhaler before she ran.
“I was wheezing and coughing and didn’t know why,” she explains. “I got back in the doctor’s office and he said, ‘Didn’t you know you were allergic to feather pillows?’ I said no, I didn’t. I have allergic asthma, and it is so important for individuals to know what you’re allergic to. If I had known that, it could have made a difference not only in that track meet but in others.”
Years later, Jeanette, who often ran with an inhaler in her sock and roomed with track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won the Gold Medal in the 4X100 relay at the 1984 Olympics.
“I would say, ‘I had it (asthma), still have it. I was born with it, and then go on and win an Olympic meet by keeping my eyes on the prize and living life to the fullest,” Bolden says. “Now I feel I don’t have to make compromises in my life.”
In addition to discovering what she was allergic to, Bolden also went through a series of medications over the years until she found out which one worked best to control her asthma. “Taking the proper medication has really made a difference in my life,” says Bolden, who shares what she learned in hopes of raising awareness about allergic asthma – which affects some 60 percent of asthmatics. Her Web site is www.AsthmaOnTrack.com.
At age 48, the mother of 4-year-old twins hopes to inspire young people to overcome their fears and reach for their dreams.
“I’m hoping that where I gained a lot of knowledge, I can give hope to a lot of people who have asthma and let them know that asthma isn’t a handicap,” she says. “You don’t want to put any limits on anyone who has asthma. To the soccer moms who can’t go see their children play soccer because of freshly cut grass, there is medication you can get so that stuffy air doesn’t bother you.”
While Bolden’s not sure who on her team might also suffer from asthma, she’s prepared to offer veteran advice. “Know what things trigger your asthma. If you know ahead of time, there are things you can do and live a fuller life,” she says.
Toi find out more about managing your own asthma see "Attacking Asthma."