It’s hard to imagine anything slowing down multi Olympic
gold, silver and bronze medalist Apolo Ohno, 30. But a little-known condition
called exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB) nearly robbed the speed skating
phenomenon from becoming a household name.
“I first started experiencing symptoms of EIB when I was 12
or 13. It’s hard to know exactly to what degree it affected me back then
because I wasn’t fully training at that time,” says Ohno.
But when he was officially
diagnosed with EIB in 2000 after doctors ran a series of respiratory tests,
Ohno says he was both surprised and relieved.
“I didn’t know what it was or that I had it, so to me it was a
big surprise. But it was also a pleasant surprise because the doctor said as a
result of having EIB, I wasn’t performing to my potential. That EIB was
inhibiting me and I was only performing at a slight percent of my potential as
an athlete,” says Ohno.
According to the American
Academy of Family Physicians, exercise-induced bronchospasm is an obstruction
of airflow that usually occurs five to 15 minutes after starting physical activity.
Although this condition is highly preventable, it is still under-recognized and
affects both aerobic fitness and quality of life.
Inhalers filled with
anti-inflammatory medicines are a popular course of treatment, as well as measures
that include increased physical conditioning, warm-up exercises, and covering
the mouth and nose.
Getting a Handle on His Symptoms
“I had all the classic symptoms when training or working
out," says Ohno. “I had tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing, and
coughing. Coughing was a big part, especially when I would do 1,000 meter time
trials. During and after I would cough, sometimes for days I would hack. I
couldn’t get rid of my cough,” he says”
Ohno says his diagnosis, and subsequent individualized
treatment plan, produced immediate results. “I noticed significant changes in
how I trained and what I was able to do,” he says.
An inhaler is what Ohno has found best manages his symptoms.
But he says determination wouldn’t let EIB keep him from becoming a world-class
athlete or winning the coveted mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars Season 4.
“I had some symptoms that season because of the rigorous
training, but it didn’t stop me. And EIB doesn’t have to stop anyone from being
a professional athlete or a weekend warrior,” says Ohno.
That’s why he’s part of a new campaign, EIBallstars.com.
“I’m encouraging people to educate themselves, get diagnosed if applicable and see
what proper steps are out there to control EIB,” he says. “I’m standing proof
to not let EIB stand in way of hopes and dreams.”
Ohno says he definitely will be in Sochi in 2014 for the
Winter Olympics. The catch is whether he’ll be there as a competitor or a
“I haven’t committed either way. I may be on the ice, but
I’m not sure,” he says. “I always want to be on ice, so I’m always training. I
stay active every single day and work out to try to stay in the best shape I can.
I‘m very competitive, so you never know.”
The signs of EIB
The American Academy of
Family Physicians says the following may be symptoms of EIB. If you experience these, consult with your physician: