Australian rules footballer Kate Orme - a mid-fielder with the West Coast Eagles in the AFL Women’s - had her first asthma attack at the tender age of six, when she was in Year One at school.
“I think I had come in from lunch. I was struggling, and I sat down at my desk, and I remember just knowing something was really wrong, but I didn’t know what it was, so I had to go up to the teacher and say Miss G ‘I’m not going so well, I can’t breathe out’.
“She pretty much snapped straight into action and took me down to the sick bay and ... before I knew it, I was in an ambulance and my mum was there. They sorted me right out at hospital.”
Different things trigger asthma for different people, and for Kate it was things such as dry windy weather, poor air quality and physical exertion - tricky for a sporty kid who loved athletics and running.
Fortunately, Kate’s asthma proved fairly easy to manage during her school years. She always had a Ventolin puffer nearby and Sydney’s relatively mild, relatively humid climate suited her.
After uni, though, she moved to Perth to take up a job opportunity and, when the first West Australian spring rolled in, her asthma took off in a big way and running became a struggle. Her response to the health crisis was the obvious one: she took up football.
Kate did, of course, also see her GP. She got a new asthma plan and when she joined the West Coast Eagles, she was referred to a specialist who prescribed additional medication to use around training and games.
“Once I got to West Coast, my asthma management was really taken to another level,” she says. As an elite athlete with asthma, Kate was also given the opportunity to become an ambassador for the National Asthma Council of Australia.
“More than anything else I wanted to make sure that kids who thought ‘oh no, I can’t do it, I have asthma’ could know that’s totally false. You can do everything you want to do. You just might have to be a bit more responsible with managing yourself.”
Kate’s keen to reduce any embarrassment associated with using asthma spacers and puffers, and uses hers on the football ground whenever she needs to. “The games are televised which makes it more visible. If you’re a kid, you shouldn’t be afraid to use your puffer in front of your mates and I guess if anyone could learn that from me then that’s great.
“I think it’s important not to hide it away and be afraid, but acknowledge that it’s an issue and get on top of it. Having asthma might change your life, but it won’t stop you doing anything you want to do. You can still do everything.
“I probably do the most gut running of anyone on my team, that’s my role. There are three of us and our role is to run at max effort for about 100 minutes. And if I can do that and manage my asthma, then there is no reason why it should hold anyone back.”
National Asthma Council, Australia, nationalasthma.org.au
First published in Greater Good, e-newsletter by The Sydney Morning Herald, August 20, 2021.