8 Famous Athletes with Asthma

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Susan Fishman, APC, CRC on January 7, 2022
  • athletic-woman-sitting-on-steps
    Elite Athletes Who Thrive with Asthma
    Famous athletes Jerome Bettis, Amy Van Dyken and Dennis Rodman have a lot in common. They all have asthma — and they discovered that by controlling it, they could not only still participate in sports, they could go on to accomplish great things. And there are many more like them. Asthma affects 17 million people in the United States alone, including those with exercise-induced asthma. But with effective management, many still live an active life and achieve their athletic dreams. Here are some athletes you may know who did just that.
  • Jerome Bettis
    Jerome Bettis
    With a 12-year career in the NFL, including six Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship in 2006, Jerome “The Bus” Bettis might be the last person you would expect to have asthma. Diagnosed with asthma when he was 15 years old, Bettis didn’t manage his condition very well after high school and, as a result, had a serious asthma attack during an NFL game in 1997. After that, he began taking his condition more seriously and is now part of the Asthma All-Stars Program, which encourages people to create an asthma action plan and approach life without limits. 
  • Amy Van Dyken
    Amy Van Dyken
    Amy Van Dyken was diagnosed with asthma when she was just 18 months old. Little did she know at age 6, when her doctor suggested she take up swimming to improve her lungs (breathing warm and moist air is often helpful), that she would become a six-time Olympic gold medal winner (four in 1996 and two in 2000) and grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time and USA Today. Amy is now a sports broadcaster and raises money for charities including the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
  • Dennis Rodman
    Dennis Rodman
    Winner of five NBA championships and one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history, Dennis Rodman never let allergies or asthma stop him. In fact, it was due to his condition that he became one of the biggest steals in NBA Draft history. When it was discovered that some poor tournament performances were due to his allergies, and that once they were controlled, he was at the top of his game, Rodman was not only drafted, he became the only player from the second round of the 1986 draft to make it into the Basketball Hall of Fame for his NBA playing career.
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee
    Jackie Joyner-Kersee
    Aerobic sports, such as distance running, soccer or basketball, are more likely to cause asthma symptoms, but Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was diagnosed with asthma at age 18, didn’t let that hold her back. Sticking with her asthma action plan, Kersee became a legendary female track athlete who won six medals throughout her Olympic career — more track and field medals than any other American woman! If you’re a runner with asthma, it may help to start and end with a 15-minute cool-down rather than stopping abruptly.
  • Kristi Yamaguchi 2
    Kristi Yamaguchi
    Cold-air sports, such as ice hockey or ice-skating, aren’t always the first choice for people with asthma. But figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who was diagnosed with asthma when she was a child, overcame her condition and became an Olympic gold medalist in 1992. She has also been a spokesperson for the American Lung Association since 2011, advocating for others with chronic illnesses. One tip for those like Yamaguchi who participate in winter sports is to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to help warm the air before it gets to the lungs.
  • Emmett Smith
    Emmett Smith
    Considered by some to be one of the greatest running backs of all time, former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith played for 15 seasons in the NFL while battling asthma symptoms. If football is your game, talk to your doctor about how to avoid symptoms and potential triggers. For example, if pollen is a trigger for you, don't exercise outdoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Greg Louganis
    Greg Louganis
    As a child, Greg Louganis was diagnosed with asthma and allergies, but his parents encouraged him to remain active and continue dance and gymnastics classes. (Activities that involve only short bursts of exercise or intermittent periods of activity, such as walking, volleyball, baseball, and gymnastics, are usually better for people with asthma). At the age of 9, he began diving lessons and went on to win gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. He is the only male and the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games.
  • Dominique Wilkins
    Dominique Wilkins
    Dominique Wilkins’s world-class basketball playing landed him on the Atlanta Hawks team and the 1987, 1988, 1990 and 1991 NBA All-Star teams. Wilkins has said that asthma is not a deterrent to playing sports, and that parents should do everything they can to give kids with asthma the opportunities to play sports. “Asthma is not a disability,” he said. Remember, with a good asthma action plan and management, you should be able to walk, climb stairs, run, and participate — even excel — in sports and exercise, without symptoms. 
8 Famous Athletes with Asthma

About The Author

Susan Fishman, APC, CRC is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in health education. She is also an Associate Professional Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, adding mental health and wellness to her area of expertise.

You can follow Susan’s work at http://www.writingbyfishman.com/ or https://twitter.com/@fishmanwriting on Twitter.
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  5. Athletes with Asthma. Kidzworld.com. http://www.kidzworld.com/article/12999-athletes-with-asthma
  6. Did allergies lead Dennis Rodman to the Detroit Pistons? Los Angeles Times. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog/2012/02/did-allergies-lead-dennis-rodman-to-the-detroit-pistons.html
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Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 7
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