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Chronic Conditions

Navigating Asthma as An Olympic Swimmer

Photo Credit: Jeff Vogan Photography

Canadian Olympic swimmer Maggie Mac Neil shares insights on excelling in sports whilst living with asthma, addressing misconceptions, and promoting lung health education.

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As an Olympic swimmer, you’ve achieved incredible success in a sport that demands exceptional respiratory health. How has living with asthma influenced your training regimen, and what strategies have you found most effective in managing your asthma symptoms while maintaining peak athletic performance?

It was asthma that forced me to focus on sprint events, as I struggled to physically finish the longer races, which is ironic since this is what I have had the most success with internationally. As far as how my training for the Olympics has been impacted by my lung conditions, some days are better than others. As I currently live and train in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the only building on campus without air conditioning, the heat and humidity can be extremely challenging. I just try to take it day by day and know that if I give it my all regardless of how I’m feeling, I’ll benefit from it in the future. I also must stay extremely diligent about taking my puffers/medication.

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Living with asthma can sometimes lead to misconceptions or stigma surrounding one’s physical capabilities. Have you encountered any misconceptions about asthma in the world of competitive sports, and if so, how do you challenge or address them?

I wouldn’t say there are any misconceptions or stigmas that I have encountered. I believe it is the fact that I wasn’t told what I could or could not do by my doctors, parents, coaches, or peers that really allowed me to excel. When it comes to asthma or lung disease, everyone experiences it differently, so it should be based on what you are physically capable of on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. However, asthma is extremely common in the swimming community, so it is also comforting to be surrounded by others who are also experiencing similar challenges at a high level.

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What key messages or initiatives do you want to educate others about managing asthma effectively, whether it’s in the context of sports/physical activity or just in general?

I’m hoping through my partnership with the Lung Health Foundation to promote physical activity and health for both Canadian kids and adults. If families or kids have any questions, I encourage them to check out the Lung Health Foundation for professional guidance on what is best for them.

For young kids who are just beginning their asthma journey and have goals of becoming a high-performance athlete, I want to show them that anything is possible if they put their minds to it. They may have to modify things and their pathway will definitely be a bit more challenging than their friends or peers, but it is worth it in the end.

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