As a child, Donna Richmond remembers spending many winter Saturday afternoons on the nebuliser at the doctor’s surgery, when she wanted to be out playing sport or out adventuring on the dairy farm where she grew up.
“We lived in a small rural town, with often one doctor on duty and I got to know that doctor really well,” Donna recalls. But despite her regular trips to the doctors surgery, Donna was determined to not let asthma get in the way of her love of sport. “I didn’t want to let asthma stop me,” she explains. “My immediate family didn’t have a history of asthma, and I guess we might have been a bit naïve, but our attitude was very much: here’s your puffer, now go ahead and play,” she remembers.
Donna grew up on a dairy farm and later discovered she had a grass allergy, which could have contributed to her ongoing asthma flare-ups. She also attributes much of her early issues to living in a cold, drafty farmhouse. “Things really changed for me when I moved into a healthy home with my husband in my 20s. It was well-insulated and well-heated and my asthma began to noticeably improve,” she explains.
As her asthma improved, Donna was able to exercise more. “I started to get back into fitness and discovered the fitter I got, the less trouble I had with my asthma,” she says. Starting out with runs into the nearby Hunua Ranges, Donna then graduated onto 10 km runs, then half-marathons and ultimately ultra-marathons, all while running a business with her husband and caring for two children.
For Donna, the appeal of endurance running lies in seeing what her body is capable of and part of that means ensuring that her asthma is well-managed. She keeps her inhaler on her while running, and always discloses her condition when entering events.
A highlight was running the 85 km stretch of the Old Ghost Ultra on the West Coast in 2018 “I was on my feet continuously for 14 hours for that one, but I saw some pretty amazing sites along the way and when I finished I felt content, like I had really achieved something big.”
Donna is the first to admit that endurance running is not for everyone, but she encourages other people living with asthma to keep active and do what they can to improve the health of their home. “Having a chronic illness doesn’t need to stop you from living your life. There are definitely things you can do to manage it and having that positive mindset really helps as well,” she says.
It’s estimated that over 8,000 New Zealanders live with severe bronchiectasis, and approximately 132 people die from this condition annually. To mark World Bronchiectasis Day on Tuesday 1 July, the Foundation talked to 27-year old Lara Mead about her experiences living with bronchiectasis.