Six-time Olympic gold medallist and patient advocate, Amy Van Dyken has never allowed asthma to slow her down. She spoke with Mediaplanet about how she’s managed her asthma throughout her illustrious swimming career.

Mediaplanet: How old were you when you discovered you had asthma?

Amy Van Dyken: I was diagnosed with asthma at 18 months old, so I’ve had it all of my life.

MP: What was the largest mental hurdle you had to overcome after you were diagnosed?

AVD: The biggest mental hurdle was realizing that I can do anything I put my mind to. Some days are better than others, and I have to remember that everyone has bad days — asthma or not — so it’s important to do what you can, when you can.

MP: Did asthma ever hold you back when it came to your performance in swimming?

AVD: For sure — it took six years to even finish one 25-yard length of a pool. After that, I struggled almost daily. I would do a peak flow before every practice which would determine what I would do that day. If it was green — do everything as fast as you can. Yellow — slow warm up and re-test. After the re-test, I would do another test, and if  I was in the green, I’d go for it. If still in the yellow, I’d modify the workout. Red meant I went home and came back the next day. I always had a rescue inhaler at the end of my lane in the pool. Being allergic to chlorine really made things tough, but we managed.

MP: As an adult, how do you ensure you’re staying on top of your asthma?

AVD: I’ve been lucky that since moving to Arizona I’ve only had one asthma attack but that doesn’t mean I slack on my meds! I still see my doctor once a year, and make sure everything is looking good.

MP: What advice would you give to young athletes who have just been diagnosed with asthma?

AVD: Listen to your doctor. Take your meds, especially when you don’t “feel” sick, and remember to not let it hold you back.