No Limits: Olympic Gold Medalist Charlie White Overcomes Asthma
Patient Perspective Determined to not let asthma prevent him from achieving gold, Olympic figure skater Charlie White leapt and glided his way to victory.
Charlie White felt a mix of emotions as he stood on the podium, alongside his partner Meryl Davis, as Olympic gold medals for ice dancing were placed around their necks during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He remembered how far he had come, from a young skater struggling with asthma to a world champion in peak physical condition. It was a remarkable journey.
“I had childhood asthma from a very, very young age,” the Michigan-born athlete recalls. “I was diagnosed when I was three years old. I’d have some pretty bad asthma attacks through ages five, six, and seven — randomly, there would be some bad ones.”
It was a rough beginning. The combination of being sick, cold temperatures in rinks, and his asthma was enough to sideline him temporarily and land him in the hospital. “That wasn’t good, as I started my career as a little figure skater at the age of five. It continued, which made me really struggle to maintain my training,” says White. “There was a lot of doubt in my head whether I could keep going as I tried to cope with my asthma every day.”
Some three million Canadians are dealing with asthma and rates continue to rise. Worldwide, the prevalence is increasing by an average of 50 percent per year. Still, it’s a condition that is not fully understood.
If White didn’t have the determination and support from his parents — who worked closely with doctors to manage his symptoms — his hopes of becoming an Olympian could have halted early. White’s asthma ended up having the opposite effect. “I think it allowed me to have a bit more of an attack attitude,” he explains. “I didn’t want to feel like I left any points on the ice, or like the judges felt I wasn’t as good as the other skaters just because of my asthma.”
White is living proof that you can live a full, active life with asthma. Management is the key. He takes good care of himself, from getting adequate sleep and avoiding colds to keeping in touch with his doctors about how best to manage his asthma with the right medicines. He encourages parents to have an open and interactive relationship with their child’s health care providers.
Though his days of competing are over, White skates on, appearing in Stars on Ice — working with other skaters on their choreography, and sharing his positive attitude. He has no regrets about the challenges he had to face.
“I had to work extra hard to make sure that my asthma wasn’t going to slow me down,” White says. “I think having that kind of a mindset helped prepare me for the competitive difficulties of figure skating. If you can learn from the challenges asthma presents, you will not only have overcome an obstacle, but you will have made yourself stronger in the process.”