My 2017 started with something most people take for granted: a full breath of air. I grew up with asthma then grew out of it in my late teens. In my twenties when I lived in Germany, it returned. Yet again, it waned. This past summer it came back with a vengeance. Making me gasp for air at its worst and giving me eighty percent of a full breath at its best, I battled asthma as I climbed the Dolomites in September only to return home and land a nasty bout of bronchitis on top of the asthma. Will it wane again?
For the last few days of December in 2016, we left the cold, dry air of Chicago for the warm, humid air of Florida. With each passing day I felt the inflammation recede and the air dash into areas of my lungs that haven't seen fresh air for a long time. I'm hoping asthma leaves me be again as it's done in the past.
Working on half capacity of air means stairs go slower, speaking is tougher, and a good, solid effort on the bike is usually out of reach. The sound of someone wheezing and hacking for air makes other people nervous, too. I feel gaunt, pale, and blue-lipped like Doc Holliday in the movie Wyatt Earp.
The medication I've taken over the years is almost as bad as asthma itself. It causes hormonal changes, nightmares, racing heart rates, weight gain and a suppressed immune system. A day in the life on these medications can be like a drug company advertisement - it helps one problem but may cause a gazillion other afflictions only almost as bad as not being able to breathe. Ask a doctor if breathing is right for you.
All kinds of athletes suffer what's called exercise-induced asthma. One particular fella, Bradley Wiggins, has caught flack for taking medications to help him breathe better. Popular opinion assumes he's enhancing his performance, however marginally, with the medications that also suppress his immune system, make him gain weight, and deteriorate his good rest.
Maybe Wiggins was looking for a leg up. Clean racing in the pro peloton definitely has its work cut out for it. What I know is that, without understanding how much of a deficit not being able to breathe properly puts on an athlete, it's irresponsible to judge or punish someone for trying to get a lungs-full of air. In my experience, asthma medication doesn't enhance performance, it makes any performance at all possible. I don't see that conversation happening out there.
As for my own racing, well, I missed the entirety of the cyclocross season this year. I'm more cyclist than racer so no one was missing me on the podium, but the 'cross season in Chicago is a great way to cap off the year before the Long Winter sets in. I was bummed not to be out there cheering on my team mates, and snapping my fair share of course tape.
I'm hoping this latest bout with breathing issues continues to wane. Breathing makes me hopeful and when I'm hopeful I plan. When I plan, I execute. What a great way to recalibrate after such a busy and complex 2016 - with the basics. Inhale, then exhale. Simple. Normal. Nothing more, nothing less.