Joanna Zeiger needed more than just strength, stamina and determination to win a berth on the U.S. Triathlon Team that would compete in Sydney. She also needed several puffs from her inhaler.
For the past seven years, Zeiger, a 30 year old from Maryland who's pursuing her doctorate degree at Johns Hopkins University, has battled asthma. But she hasn't let that stop her. She's a world-class triathlete who's racked up impressive finishes wherever she's gone, including Hawaii where she's finished in the top 10 in the Ironman World Championships.
Yet for all of her accomplishments, Zeiger never thought she'd go to the Olympics. She qualified for the 1992 Olympic trials in swimming but knew she wasn't at the level she needed to be. She found her niche, though, in triathlons.
The best part about triathlons, Zeiger says, is the chance to experience new things: new places, new people, new challenges.
HealthGate's Karen Asp talked with Zeiger to learn how she's managed to compete at such an elite level with asthma.
I've always been a swimmer so I may have been asthmatic earlier in my life, but if that's the case, I didn't notice it. When I started running in 1993, I realized I had a problem. I'd go for a run and I'd often be short of breath, especially during harder efforts. I was almost hyperventilating. I just thought I was out of shape. But my dad is an allergist and he recognized the problem.
I never realized the implications it would have. I really had no idea it would be a constant battle. I thought I could take my medication and be fine. Even after all these years, I still have days when I can't get my asthma under control, and I have to remember that I'll battle this all my life.
Fortunately, I've found a good combination with my medications so that helps me manage it. Most of the time when I'm training and racing, I can breathe well. But it's always in the back of my head that something could go wrong and I might not be able to breathe. I just have to take my medications daily and be aware of how I'm feeling when I race. If I'm not breathing well, I have to take my medication. It's not easy because you have a fear of being overmedicated or that you're wimping out or you're out of shape. It's hard to admit when I'm having trouble breathing and need to medicate myself.
Last summer, I had a terrible experience, but it helped me learn for the future. I did a race in Chicago, and I'd had bronchitis which triggered my asthma. I knew I was having trouble breathing, but I'd already taken something for it, and I didn't want any more. Because I didn't take anything else, I had the worst asthma attack. Now when I'm having trouble breathing, I don't wait to take my medication.
A typical week involved about 30 to 35 hours of training. Some weeks might have been less. I did two speed workouts with running each week. I typically did one or two long bike rides a week that could last up to six hours. I did one long run each week, about two to three hours. I swam five days a week, and the rest was filler workouts with shorter runs and rides. I didn't lift weights, but I did stretch regularly and get a weekly massage.
You can still compete at a high level but you have to be smart about it. Nothing will ever be 100%. You might have 10 great days but have problems on the eleventh day, and it's that eleventh day you have to worry about. Ask yourself why you're having problems. Then back off on training that day and take your medication.
Fitness is for everybody, even if you have asthma. Everybody should get out there and participate in sports. All of us (Olympians) started somewhere. We weren't always at the level we're at now. Even running two to three miles is a great accomplishment.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a
Copyright © 2007
EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.