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Maggie Mac Neil swims her way to gold in the women's 100m butterfly at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 22, 2023. Mac Neil’s experiences with asthma have led her to become involved with the Lung Health Foundation.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The organizer: Maggie Mac Neil

The pitch: Promoting lung health awareness

Maggie Mac Neil was just about to compete at a Swimming World Cup event in Singapore in 2017 when she started to have trouble breathing.

The heat, humidity and the chlorine from the indoor aquatic facility had taken its toll. “That’s when I first realized that it was really hard for me to breathe just doing the simplest of activities,” recalled Ms. Mac Neil who won three medals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 including gold in the 100-metre butterfly.

She was diagnosed with asthma and the condition got so bad that Ms. Mac Neil, 23, had to change her events; from longer distances such as the 200-metre butterfly and 400-metre individual medley, to sprints. “It forced me to focus on sprinting more which is kind of ironic since that’s what I’ve had the most success with in the last four or five years.”

She treats her condition with a variety of puffers and medication. “It’s just about being diligent and trying to not so much prevent things in the future, but just to make it manageable so that it doesn’t impact my swimming or my life in the future,” she said.

Ms. Mac Neil’s experiences have led her to become involved with the Lung Health Foundation, which provides resources and services to people living with lung disease. She’s been named the organization’s ambassador and she helped promote the charity’s 7 Days of Giving campaign in December.

As an elite athlete, Ms. Mac Neil hopes to show young people that having asthma doesn’t have to be a barrier to enjoying sports or staying active. “Even if they have to make some modifications, or maybe try a different sport, it’s not impossible for them to get involved and stay healthy,” she said. “But also I want to help promote overall health in just every type of adult.”

She added that her mother and she understand that the condition will be a lifelong challenge. “It’s definitely worsened when I’m exercising at such a high level and in chlorine especially,” she said. “But even when I’m off in the summer and just enjoying time at the cottage or time at home, I still have to be diligent about my puffers. And I can still feel it if I don’t.”

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