Q&A With a Ninja Warrior: Overcoming Asthma
Najee Richardson, a former gymnast, is well-known as one of three 2018 finalists in NBC's American Ninja Warrior championship. As an athlete with asthma, Najee's story has inspired children and adults alike, and he has been named the American Lung Association's 2019 National Fight For Air Climb Ambassador.
Pulmonology Consultant caught up with Najee before his Fight For Air Climb in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we asked him how he has managed his asthma diagnosis while staying physically active.
PULMONOLOGY CONSULTANT: When were you diagnosed with asthma and how did that impact you as a kid?
Najee Richardson: I was diagnosed with asthma as a baby. I was born prematurely, with a lot of complications and breathing problems. They didn't expect me to make it through the night. I grew up as kind of a frail kid, trying to keep up with my friends. I didn't really understand asthma, I knew I had to carry an inhaler and use it when I was out of breath, but I didn't really grasp what asthma was. I had to work a little harder to keep up with my friends, but I didn't use it as an excuse and I never felt sorry for myself having it.
PULM CON: With your asthma diagnosis, how did you motivate yourself to overcome it and be active with gymnastics and other activities?
NR: I’ve always been a bit of a nerd growing up! I love comic books and superheroes; gymnastics and mixed martial arts made me feel like I was a real-life superhero and I loved that. Most important, it helped me forget I even had asthma sometimes, because I could do things the ordinary person couldn’t, let alone with asthma.
PULM CON: How did you control your asthma while training for American Ninja Warrior?
NR: I didn’t actually worry about controlling my asthma while training for American Ninja Warrior; I just constantly focused on pushing myself past my limits. If I had an attack, for me, they usually pass eventually. I’ve learned how to recognize my asthma triggers and keep asthma attacks at bay. I’m also not going to let asthma keep me from evolving and growing as an athlete!
PULM CON: What could your doctors have done better to support you during your training for American Ninja Warrior?
NR: Unfortunately, I never consulted my doctors about training for American Ninja Warrior. But I’ve learned over the years and fully understand that if you can’t breathe, nothing else matters. So, while I push myself to reach new limits, I encourage everyone to talk to their doctor about asthma management, exercise and training, and how to find the right balance that works for your lifestyle.
For more information, visit the American Lung Association's website at www.Lung.org.