Former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun -- '64,
'68, '72 Olympics
I never dreamed when I was a young man that one day I would compete in the
Olympics, break three world records, and be a life-long athlete. These are
extraordinary accomplishments, even more so because I have exercise-induced
asthma. Asthma has been part of my life for a long time, but I never let it
stop me from doing the things I wanted to do.
As a child, I was never good at sports. I tried out for team after team, and
as each one cut me, I grew increasingly frustrated with myself. Then I tried
out for the cross-country team, and everything changed. Not only did I make
the team, but I excelled at the sport. That spring I learned the incredible
rush of winning a race. I also learned that I had asthma.
I had never heard of exercise-induced asthma before. I had assumed my breathlessness
during and after exercise came from being out-of-shape. Fortunately for me,
my coach knew enough to take me to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. He tested
me for allergies, and it turned out I had lots of them. The doctor explained
that allergies contribute to asthma, and he cautioned me to avoid allergens
as much as possible. He also told me to "steam" my airways open at night, since
at that time (early 1960s) there were not many asthma medications.
Within 3 months of cross-country training, it was clear that the Lord had
given me a talent to run and to run fast. By my senior year, I was one of the
top high school runners in the U.S. and a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
In just two years, I went from being an average high school student to a national
sports star. The pressure (and I don't mean sinus pressure) was enormous. Suddenly
I had to worry about pleasing not only myself and my parents, but my coach,
my teammates, the press, and my country.
In 1967, I started taking allergy shots. I was 21 years old and training for
the 1968 Olympics. I was seeing an allergist who worked with athletes, and
he suggested I try the shots. That same year, I became the fastest person to
ever run one mile, with a time of 3 minutes, 51.1 seconds. That record held
for 8 years. I don't know for certain if the allergy shots helped me break
the world record, but I know they certainly helped me breathe better. I have
felt much better since I started taking allergy shots.
Things seemed to be going well. My asthma did not make me different from any
other member of the team, except that I had to bring my own pillows on trips
and arrange to get my allergy shots in other cities. Then, during the 1968
Olympics in Mexico City, I had a big scare. I had just finished running in
my final race and was walking back to the finish line. I don't remember exactly
what happened in the next few minutes, but I was suddenly aware that I couldn't
breathe. I couldn't breathe at all. To make matters worse, I couldn't find
anyone who spoke English. Somehow I got medical help and everything was okay.
Looking back on it, I should have realized that I was in a city known for its
high levels of air pollution and high elevation (7,400 feet above sea level).
Add the intense race I had just run, and you have the makings of an asthma
attack. That experience really shook me up.
I no longer run competitively, but I still enjoy running, and I still have
to take care of my asthma. My wife, Anne, and I keep a dust-free home. I continue
to take allergy shots and use an air filter. I'm fortunate that I can keep
my asthma under control by keeping my allergies under control. After years
of representing the U.S. in international events, I had the honor of representing
my home state, Kansas, in the U.S. Congress. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments
as a sportsman and as a statesman, and grateful to the Lord for enabling me
to serve our nation. Everyone faces obstacles in life, and asthma is one that
can be overcome by paying attention to your body and taking your symptoms seriously.
Jim Ryun is one of the greatest runners of all time. He was a member of
the United States House of Representatives, 1997 - 2007. He has authored
and co-authored two books, America Strong and Heroes Among
Us. Ryun, along with members of his family, led "Team Ryun" to victory
in the House division of the 3-mile Capital Hill Challenge.
Review Date: 5/16/2007
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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