National Football League (NFL) running back and reigning "Dancing with the Stars" champion Rashad Jennings battled childhood asthma with grit and determination. He has partnered with the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America to raise awareness about the widespread condition.
You developed asthma as a child. Tell us about your experience.
It was something that I struggled with throughout my childhood. I was 10 years old when I had my first asthma attack. I'll never forget it—I was playing on the monkey bars with my friends, and I fell to the ground. I was dependent on an inhaler daily. And it prevented me from running and other activities. After my second major asthma attack, when I was 13, I was hospitalized and nearly died. I couldn't breathe.
You overcame asthma to play professional football in the NFL and win "Dancing with the Stars." How did you educate yourself and gradually strengthen your lungs?
The doctor suggested that I not play sports. But I was hard-headed. I strengthened my lungs little by little by running. I also improved my diet.
For the past 10 years, I haven't had any asthma symptoms. I haven't had to use inhalers. I live a very healthy life.
Did you have any environmental factors at home that impacted your asthma?
My dad smoked heavily. That was part of the reason my asthma was so bad. To this day, I hate the smell of smoke and I stay away from places where I could encounter it.
What is your message to others with asthma?
I have a special message for kids. I want them to know that because you have asthma doesn't mean you are asthma. It is something you can overcome. It is something you can live with. I am a living example of that. By taking the proper measures you will get strong; you will get better.
I also encourage you to exercise. If you put in the right work ethic about anything, you will succeed.
I'm proud that the Rashad Jennings Foundation promotes health and fitness and reading and education as well as mentorship for kids.
How important is additional research, like that supported by NIH, to help those with asthma?
Research is critical. The number of people who suffer from asthma is astronomical. We also need to do more to educate people about asthma. It's hard to raise our kids up to their full potential if they are struggling to breathe.