This week’s assembly tells the story of Paula Radcliffe, focusing on her experiences as an asthma sufferer and looking at how she is preparing for the Olympics in Beijing.

***Assembly Plan***

Paula Radcliffe, who has asthma, prepares for a hot and humid Beijing.

Paula is one of our hopes for a medal in the Beijing Olympics. It’s well known that she has asthma, and so she is a role model for the many children who are also sufferers. This assembly tells us about her asthma, and also about her worries for Beijing. Concerns have been raised about air pollution in Beijing, but Paula says she’s more worried about heat and humidity − partly because she can prepare for that, but can’t do much about the pollution except put it out of her mind. It’s a good example of not worrying about something you can’t control.


  • Pictures of Paula. (There are lots on Google Images, including a lovely one of Paula with her baby.)


You know what this is. It’s an asthma inhaler. And you know who this is. It’s Paula Radcliffe, our best marathon runner. What’s the connection between the two? Yes, Paula is an asthma sufferer. But that’s not stopped her from being one of the best long-distance runners this country has ever produced. It’s worth remembering that, because I know there are people here who have asthma, and I know it can get you down occasionally. You might even have had a serious attack and had to go to hospital. But the example of Paula, and other sports stars who have asthma, is an encouragement, because people like that show you that it’s possible to do great things despite having a problem to overcome.


The reason Paula’s in the news this week is because she’s been talking about the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing and how her asthma might affect her. There are two reasons why it might. One is that there’s a lot of air pollution in the Beijing area. Some of the other athletes have already said they’re worried about that, and last year some scientists measured pollution in Beijing during August, which is when the Games are held, and found that it was quite serious. A few athletes are even saying that they might not run in the long-distance events because of it. They’re bothered that pollution may damage their lungs. The other worry is that at that time of the year it is very hot and humid in Beijing, and hot humid weather isn’t at all good for marathon runners. They like it cool, crisp and clear. If it’s hot and humid they sweat a lot and lose a lot of water from their bodies, which is difficult to make up. That can cause their body temperature to go right up and cause heat exhaustion.

Paula says she’s not going to worry about the pollution. She says, “I need the right dosages of my medication but after that I don’t think the pollution is something I can worry about too much.”

What she means, really, is that it’s not something she can do anything about, so why worry about it? What she does worry about, though, is the heat and humidity. That’s because she can prepare for that. For example, she can make sure she takes on enough water and other energy drinks both before the race and during it. She’s very experienced at that and will be able to do the right thing.

Paula developed asthma when she was fourteen, when she started to train seriously for running. She found that she would get tightness it the chest, be short of breath and sometimes get dizzy. But now she is a world-class runner. She manages her condition by being completely disciplined about the way she takes her medication. She takes it at the right time, in the right doses. She also knows how to measure her lung capacity so she knows how she’s getting on. Paula says, “I don’t really think asthma has affected my career − if anything, it’s made me more determined to be successful and reach my maximum potential.”


There are some good lessons to be learned from Paula. One is that if you have a health problem, then there are two things you can do. One is to be very careful and disciplined about doing what the doctors and the health experts say. It’s ever so easy to cut corners and forget things, or not bother. But Paula learned early on that if she was casual with her medication then she paid the price in her athletic performance. The other thing you can do is learn from Paula’s determination. It would have been easy for her to use her asthma as an excuse for not doing things, but she did the opposite and used her asthma as something to spur her on. Other athletes and sports people have done the same − cricketer Ian Botham, and England football player Paul Scholes both have asthma, but have still become top-class sports performers.

Another lesson from Paula is that it’s not much use worrying about something that you can’t do anything about. Paula’s attitude is, “I can’t do anything about the pollution in Beijing, so I’m not going to worry about it.”

That’s a good attitude. We all spend a lot of time worrying about things that we can’t do anything about, and maybe we should stop doing it, because worrying gets in the way of our thinking. Paula needs her energy for training and planning, and if she lay awake thinking of the pollution that wouldn’t do her any good at all.


Lord, we thank you for the example of Paula and other athletes who have overcome difficulties. Keep them safe as they challenge themselves in difficult circumstances. Be with all those who do research into illnesses, give courage to sufferers and their families.


Overcoming a problem helps you to understand what sort of person you are.

Things to think about…

Are there asthma stories in your school, from children or adults? See if anyone is willing to talk about overcoming problems and learning from them.

Find out about asthma at

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh