Waikato man, Taumata o Te Rā Nga Hau e Wha o Te Motu Lowe, was the winner of the Adult Asthma Category at the 2023 national Respiratory Achievers’ Awards.

The awards celebrate the achievements of outstanding New Zealanders living with respiratory conditions. 21-year-old Taumata (Ngati Raukawa, Ngai Tuhoe, and Ngapuhi) has lived with severe asthma since childhood but has not let this be a barrier to achieving his goals.

Taumata has a serious form of asthma, known as brittle asthma, and suffered a near-fatal attack as a seven-year-old. He recalls beginning to feel breathless while in a school assembly and then later waking to find himself being resuscitated in an ambulance. This experience was filmed for a reality TV programme, and looking back, Taumata was happy it was televised: “It showed people just how serious asthma can get”.

Taumata’s asthma was worse when he was a child, his symptoms came and went during his teen years and have improved markedly with adulthood. “As I’ve got older and fitter, my asthma has got better. I also don’t panic when I feel breathless or wheezy. When you’re a kid it’s easy to feel like you’re going to die when you feel asthma symptoms coming on; it’s harder to stay calm”.

Taumata tries not to let asthma slow him down: “My asthma can still play up and I often feel wheezy in spring. I try to do as much as I can but I’m also realistic about what I can achieve on a given day. I don’t like making a big deal about my asthma, but I’ve found that letting my friends and family know about it and being able to tell them when I need an extra minute to catch my breath, is really helpful.”

For his 21st birthday last year, Taumata challenged himself to run 21 km (equivalent to a half marathon). He raised money for The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, as well as a mental health charity. An often-overlooked aspect of living with asthma is the toll it can take on your mental health. “After my big asthma attack when I was young, I couldn’t participate in games and sport without worrying about my asthma. I now knew that I was at risk of a big asthma attack and didn’t want to go through that again,” Taumata explains.

Friends and family joined Taumata for his 21 km run, either running part of the way with him or shouting encouragement at him on the route. “It was a hard day and the last couple of kilometres were a struggle but it’s cool that I was capable of doing it!”

Taumata has his eyes set on running 22 km this year and has plans to encourage other people to join in: “People could pay a donation to The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation or a mental health charity to enter the run. The emphasis should be on the fundraising, doing some exercise and taking part, rather than winning or being the best runner.”

Of course, living with asthma can be difficult and often worrying, but Taumata attributes his determined attitude to the condition, “My big asthma attack when I was young, gave me an early lesson in the importance of making the most of your life. I’m motivated to be busy, successful and keep moving forward”.

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