Galen Rupp: The Athlete and Allergy Sufferer

Olympian galen rupp suffers from asthma and allergies

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“Asthma and allergies don't have to stop you from doing great things,” says United States Olympian Galen Rupp. Rupp should know as he's been battling asthma and allergies his whole life.

Rupp the Track Star

Galen Rupp is considered to be one of the best long-distance runners the United States has ever produced. Rupp had an illustrious collegiate career at the University of Oregon. During his time in Oregon,

Rupp earned 14 All American honors, earned Academic All American honors twice, won two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cross-country team titles as well as a NCAA indoor team title. Rupp won the 2009 Bowerman Award for being the year's best track athlete.

Rupp now competes professionally for the United States track team. As a member of Nike's Oregon Project, Rupp now holds multiple American records in track. Rupp holds the American record for the 10,000 meters race, with a time of 26 minutes and 48 seconds. In the 2008 Olympics, Rupp finished in 13th place for the 10,000 meters race, the best finish for a non-African.

Rupp just set the American record for the two mile at the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) Classic on February 11, 2012. Rupp is preparing for the 2012 Olympics in London and dailyrx had a chance to talk about his success as well as his struggle to control his asthma and allergies.

Rupp the Allergy Sufferer

Rupp still has plenty of work to do before the Olympics, including some important races. “Training's been going really well,” says Rupp. “We just got the National Indoor Track & Field Championships coming up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a couple of weeks, notes Rupp. “Hopefully we have the World Indoor Meet which is March ninth and everything after that is getting ready for the Olympics, so it's an exciting year.”

Ever since he was a kid Rupp battled some severe allergies. “Early on it had more to do allergies. I was really allergic to grass and when the spring came along, I played softball at that age,” says Rupp. “I was outside a lot, I was a really active kid. I just remember getting really itchy eyes, which was horrible.”

Before Rupp's success on the track, he was an athletic kid who enjoyed soccer and softball, but his allergies did not make it easy to enjoy playing. “I would get a rash, my skin would get really itchy especially if I played on the grass for soccer,” notes Rupp, “So that's what kind of started it. It was just really, really bad.”

It wasn't long until Rupp's family took action against his allergies. “My mom took me in, when I was young, because she was seeing all of this happen,” says Rupp. “We went to the doctor I still see today in Portland, and that's kind of where it started. I started doing skin test, I think I was something like 27 or 28 positives out of 30,” states Rupp.

“I remember the nurses were laughing at me because usually, you have to wait like 10 or 15 minutes, laughs Rupp, “and after three or four minutes it was enough of a positive to wipe it off. I think I always had bad allergies and have been treated for it since I was nine.”

During his professional career, Rupp can avoid events where his allergies or asthma can flare up but that was not always the case. “We have always been really diligent when it comes to checking that stuff,” says Rupp. “Monitoring pollen counts where we are going, certain days when it is going to be really cold, things that can really trigger my asthma or allergies, we are really aware of that.”

Running with Asthma and Allergies

While he can control his appearance as a profession, in high school he had to battle his allergies in one of the worst places for someone who was sensitive to grass pollen. “In high school, either a meet where I'm from in Portland or a state meet in Eugene, where the University of Oregon is, is one of the worst places in the world for grass pollen,” notes Rupp. “We grow a ton of grass in the valley and it kind of sits between two mountain ranges and never really clears out. It's really bad in the spring and summer. It's worse when it rains.” 

“The state high school track meets were held in Eugene, at the University of Oregon. I remember, even in high school, I would go to the coast sometimes where there was not as much pollen in the air,” recalls Rupp.

For someone that sensitive to grass pollen, Rupp had to take drastic steps to combat his allergies. “I would stay there up until right before the race and drive into town the day of the race,” says Rupp. “As soon I would get in, my coaches would make me wear a mask to keep the particles out. I would warm up with it and a lot of people would laugh, and I'm sure I looked pretty funny wearing it,” recalls Rupp. “I would wear it until right before the race started.”

Aside from grass, Rupp has to deal with cold weather triggering asthma symptoms. “I ran the New York City half-marathon last year and it was really cold out,” Rupp recalls. “The cold is something that definitely triggers breathing problems so I wore a different kind of mask there. It was something that didn't restrict your breathing but kept the air you were breathing in really warm.”

Wearing a mask may have earned Rupp some chuckles from competitors but it does not bring him down. “I know it kind of looks funny sometimes but it's a little disturbing when people ask about it,” notes Rupp. “To me, it's nothing different than wearing a knee brace or something like that to help a different part of your body to function properly. If that's what it takes to kind of keep me performing at my best and keep my asthma and allergies as minimal as possible, then that's what I have to do.”

An Ounce of Prevention

For Rupp, asthma and allergies impact his training more so than his actual races. “Sometimes with the training it is hard to adjust that much and switch things because you can't miss a day of training, says Rupp. “I've been really lucky where my doctors have been great, they have really been proactive, notes Rupp. “They are always telling me just to call or text if there are any problems, it doesn't matter what time of day. I'm sure I've bugged them a few times, more than one occasion,” Rupp laughs.

For Rupp, it all comes down to prevention. “We've been really on top of my asthma and allergies. I think that more than anything, the more you can to prevent things before they happen, is probably the biggest factor in controlling asthma,” says Rupp.

Rupp takes several medications to control his asthma and allergies include Advair daily and before running, Combivent before running, as well as Singulair every night and Allegra for allergies.

“You just have to be really diligent about it, you know what they say 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'” notes Rupp. “You just try to take all the necessary precautions and it is something that I have to deal with and I can't really change but we are trying to make the best of the situation.”