My greatest challenge – Tyree Washington
Battling asthma: 'My doctors always joked and said they couldn’t understand how I had such bad asthma and yet I could run one of the hardest events on the planet'“Many people don’t know that I have suffered from asthma for my whole life. I almost died from it on numerous occasions. As a baby the doctors told my grandmother, who raised me, I had 72 hours to live. My family was very spiritual and I made it through.
“When I was aged 14 or 15, I suffered smog inhalation in my home city of Riverside, California. My mother rushed me to hospital and I was taken to ER. My lungs were literally collapsing and everything was shutting down on me. For a while, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Thankfully, I improved, but I remember when I left the hospital bed for a couple of weeks I couldn’t walk. It was very humbling.
“My asthma has been a constant battle through the years because my breathing capacity is at only 75 per cent. My doctor helped me maintain my asthma and I am just grateful I made it and excelled on the track. My doctors always joked and said they couldn’t understand how I had such bad asthma and yet I could run one of the hardest events on the planet. Both scientifically and medically they couldn’t explain it. I wasn’t supposed to win World Championships and become the fastest man in the world during my time in the 400m.
“My asthma made every year of my career very unpredictable. I often had to change my routines because the stresses of being involved in a high intensity sport like track and field would causes my asthma to flare up. I remember racing in Osaka in 1998 and enduring an asthma attack during the race. I wanted to stop at 200m and was telling myself to stop after the next 50 metres. Then I got to 300m and thought, ‘screw it, I’m going to finish the full race’. That race I ran 45.14 for third and I collapsed after the race. I was very stubborn. I wouldn’t go and see a doctor. I just wanted to race.
“Another time I couldn’t find one of my inhalers at home. I was on my hands and knees trying to find one, there was nobody home and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. Thankfully, I found an inhaler at the back of the cupboard. If I hadn’t, it would have been lights out for me.
“My career was always a constant battle. I guess pollen is my enemy – like kryptonite.
“For a long time when I looked back on my career, I felt really hurt I never made an Olympic team because of injury and illness. But over time, I realised that by winning the world indoor and outdoor titles in 2003 I had beaten all the best athletes in the world that year. Once I started to accept this, I could look back and think that despite my illnesses, I had a glorious and blessed career. I am part of a select group of athletes that have won world titles; my talent for track was a gift from God.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF
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- Tyree Washington in the 400m at the 2003 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright