Cycling as a Parasport for Asthmatics?
Recent concerns have surfaced in professional cycling realm that severe asthma is a barrier to participating in the sport. The opinion has been stated that athletes with severe asthma could more appropriately compete with others in the Paralympics.1 I don't have much background with the ins and outs of classifying para-athletes and determining who can fairly and appropriately compete in Paralympic sports. I do spend more than my fair share of time in the saddle of a bicycle. My asthma isn't severe so I can't personally speak to the challenges of bicycling with that level of lung disease. I am skeptical that even with appropriate doping exceptions for asthma control medications an athlete with severe asthma could maintain the level of control needed to compete at a world class level.
I wonder if some of the commentary we are seeing is people who fail to understand the spectrum of classifications that are used to define asthma severity. I know that some people view needing anything more than occasional use of a rescue puffer as "bad" or "severe" asthma. I have yet to find the gumption to tell my bicycling mates that just because you see me use my inhaler doesn't mean I'm even having a "bad" day or that I have "bad" asthma. Unless things have rapidly changed, which does happen from time to time, the fact that I am out biking by definition means I'm having a "good" day.
I think that it is wonderful that there are asthmatic athletes out there competing on the world stage. I can't imagine what goes into their preparations and training to keep their lungs healthy and their bodies in tip top shape. I am not sure how it can be fairly classified into Paralympic categories. I would assume that when one is having an asthma flare they would not compete in a bicycle race. Which then leaves times when the athlete's asthma is well controlled and they are breathing normally. I guess they could classify based on lung capacity percentages. I am just not sure how this levels the playing field in sport. I assume the only adaptation an asthmatic athlete needs to compete is permission to use their inhalers during competition. With a disease that is so incredibly variable in it's effect on different people I'm just not sure how it could be equitably broken down into competitive classifications. There is also the difficulty of the variation in asthma symptoms day to day and week to week. Yes, there are days where I might bicycle 50 miles at no where near as fast as an elite rider. There are also days where all I'm feeling up to is watching Le Tour de France on the TV.
To me it seems like the fact that these athletes are able to compete at the Grand Tour level with appropriate medical support means that we don't need to consider adding the Paralympic option. In my opinion there are enough opportunists for competition available to people with asthma. I think we can find a sport involvement level that matches our needs out of the currently available recreational, semi professional, and professional programs already in existence. Do you think that athletes with asthma should be in the Paralympics?
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