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TRACK COACH FACES THE HURDLES OF ASTHMA.

Byline: Emily Henry

Staff Writer

Olympic athletes in Los Angeles train under a sky yellow with sunshine and pollution.

Contending with such thick, humid air takes strong lungs. For athletes with allergic asthma, it also takes strong determination.

Jeanette Bolden, coach of the U.S. Women's Track & Field Team heading to the Olympics in Beijing this week, has dealt with life-threatening asthma her entire life. As a child, being rushed in and out of emergency rooms for treatment was a frequent and upsetting routine.

"I used to be scared that I would have an asthma attack, not be able to breathe, and die," said Bolden, 48, of Compton. "That's how I felt a lot of the time."

Now this Olympic gold medalist spends her time coaching up-and-coming athletes on UCLA's Marshall Field or sitting in her campus office with a row of awards gleaming behind her.

Being selected to coach in the Beijing Olympics is a crowning achievement for Bolden, especially as she heads to a region where air quality has become a concern for competitors and world governments.

Beginning in July, Beijing officials closed some of the high-polluting factories in the city and surrounding provinces, limited use of millions of privately owned vehicles and halted some construction.

Though these efforts have improved air quality, a report issued last week by Greenpeace indicated that the average concentration levels of particulates, a key measure of pollution, remained twice those recommended under World Health Organization guidelines.

At least one country, Australia, has given its athletes the option of staying home if air pollution poses a problem.

That said, Bolden isn't particularly concerned about the impact of pollution on her contingent of athletes.

"I don't think the pollution is going to be so much of a problem as the heat and humidity," said Bolden.

But for athletes with allergic asthma, the challenges are hard to ignore.

It's not just pollution that can cause problems -- pet dander, dust, mold, mildew and pollen all can trigger asthma attacks, said Bolden, who knows firsthand the obstacles the athletes face.

Bolden runs a Web resource, www.asthmaontrack.com, for asthmatic athletes, to help them recognize the difference between exercise-induced asthma and allergic asthma, the latter of which is triggered by a variety of factors.

At one time, Beijing's poor air quality would have been reason enough for Bolden to stay home, but the world-class athlete refused to be deterred from a career on the track.

In sixth grade, Bolden's asthma had become so severe, she was moved from her home in Compton to a care facility for asthmatics. She lived there for more than six months and learned to treat her asthma as an inconvenience rather than a handicap. Bolden said the experience taught her that "it's not something that's out of your control."

Self-reliance and resilience were essential elements in understanding how to manage attacks, she said.

Carrying her asthma inhaler hidden inside a sock in her gym bag, Bolden moved from the sidelines to the field. She began training with a track team, and as her skills progressed, so did her confidence. She no longer felt ashamed of carrying the inhaler and being taunted as "asthma girl," but was encouraged to work harder because of it.

"Once I started running and getting very good at running, I started feeling a lot of pride and confidence," said Bolden. "It was like, 'I have asthma, and look what I can do. You don't have asthma, and I'm beating you.' So I took a lot of pride in that."

Bolden ran through middle school into high school, and received a scholarship to UCLA. A five-time All-American, Bolden graduated in 1983 and went on to win a gold medal in the 400-meter relay at the Los Angeles Olympic Games the following year.

During the next Olympic tryouts, Bolden tore an Achilles tendon and has never been able to run with the same intensity.Instead she has immersed herself in coaching.

After serving as an assistant coach at UCLA, she was named the university's head women's track and field coach in 1993. Bolden has since led the team to three national titles.

"We have more Olympians than any other university in the nation," said Bolden, who is taking six athletes from UCLA to compete in Beijing.

Emily Henry (310) 540-5511, Ext. 380; emily.henry@dailybreeze.com

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(1 -- 2 -- color) UCLA track coach Jeanette Bolden, who has dealt with life-threatening asthma all her life, will guide the U.S. women's Olympic track team in Beijing. Above right, she runs in the Mobil Grand Prix in Sweden in 1986.

Bob Martin/Allsport
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 4, 2008
Words:775
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