I am 17 years old and a senior in high school. While I am proud to be a student-athlete, another way in which I have come to identify myself is as somebody who has struggled with asthma all my life.
In first grade, I got really sick and could not stop coughing. That's when my parents started explaining to me about asthma and how I was born with it. My condition was pretty bad then. My parents had to test and record my oxygen level every day and send it to the doctor.
As I got older and started participating in sports, I would get winded running short distances. My parents told me it was my decision whether I wanted to continue. It was a challenge sometimes, but I didn't give up. I relied on my inhaler to get me through practice and games.
By the time I started high school, my asthma was under better control and it didn't have such a big impact on my life. But that doesn't mean my symptoms went away. I've been on the soccer, track and swim teams all four years and there are times it's been tough. Exercising outside in the cold is really difficult. My throat and chest get tight and it's hard to breathe. Sometimes I have those moments when I have to decide if I should stop or push myself.
For our senior project at school, we had to do research on social injustices in the world. I chose air pollution. I wanted to learn more about how breathing air filled with toxins can impact people like myself with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
In my research and interviews with professionals at the American Lung Association office in Massachusetts, I found that air pollution is a serious problem, especially for people who live in inner cities or communities where they have coal-burning power plants sending contaminants into the air. It's even worse for people whose lungs are compromised by asthma or other respiratory conditions.
As part of my project, I volunteered for an American Lung Association Fight for the Air Climb in Springfield, Massachusetts. I climbed 22 flights of stairs with a group of firefighters. I had my inhaler with me, but I'm proud to say that I made it to the top.
My older brother and I both have asthma. He's 22 and finds that animal fur, especially from dogs, triggers his symptoms. Mine are triggered by exercise and when I come down with a cold. I do my best to manage my triggers and to stay healthy, but I can't control the amount of contaminants in the air I breathe.
Air pollution may feel personal for me, but the fact is it affects everyone. I want to do whatever I can to help people understand that it's time we speak up about our priorities and number one on the list is our right to breathe clean air.