At the mere age of 16, Ada Free* made a decision to paddle herself away from the state of being over-reliant on Seretide Evohaler, an asthma inhaler that’s filled with steroids. Armed with nothing but a life vest and oar, it was a decision that changed her whole perspective of life.
Asthma is a common phenomenon worldwide, including Singapore. Ada’s first asthma attack occurred a day before her 11th birthday. It came as a no surprise to her family since everyone but her father are asthmatics too.
Subsequently, her asthma attacks intensified till she was prescribed with Seretide inhaler.
Seretide is used to reduce irritation and swelling of the lungs’ air passages which constricts during asthma attacks, resulting in breathing difficulties. Her mother said that she was also prescribed Seretide for a short period, but gradually moved on to steroid-free inhalers instead.
However, the same can’t be said for Ada who began to rely on Seretide even when her asthma attacks were mild, for she took a liking to the immediate relief brought by it as compared to other steroid-free inhalers.
While reading up on asthma to better understand her condition, she inadvertently became aware of the dangers imposed if one relied too heavily on Seretide inhalers.
Seeing how often she had been using it, even for mild attacks, she realized that she was at the brink of a hazardous overdose. She knew she had to reduce her dependency on Seretide.
An opportunity to change came when she was in secondary three, in the form of an invitation to canoe at Singapore River for a post-exams celebration with her schoolmates.
“I’ve never thought of canoeing before that. Then I was like hmmm… this is interesting but will I be able to do it? Can I?”
She was keen on seizing that opportunity to not only challenge herself to do something that she had thought was impossible for asthmatics.
After spending days persuading her apprehensive parents, she found herself canoeing. Unbeknownst to anyone, she didn’t bring along any inhaler.
Not needing to use her inhaler unleashed a burning desire to challenge herself even further. She became immensely interested in conquering more activities that many would deem impossible for asthmatics – extreme sports.
Her first foray into extreme sports began a couple of months after she graduated from Junior College. This time, it involved steep and muddy terrains – hiking.
She had decided to hike up Malaysia’s Kota Tinggi’s Pelepah Falls alone. Although she did bring along an inhaler, she managed to complete the hike without it. Soon after, she rock-climbed and dirt-biked in Johor Bahru, and attained a diving license in Thailand.
She cave-dived in Gauteng, South Africa and hiked along waterfalls and valleys near Jerusalem. However, amongst the list of countries that she had been to, one stood out more than others – Jordan.
It was where she had experienced what she termed “near-death”, when she was about to dive at Aqaba South Beach in 2015. Ada grows pale as she recounts her experience.
“I felt like nothing was right. My wet suit, collar and weights all seemed too tight, and it felt like there wasn’t enough air flowing into my lungs!”
With sheer determination, she mustered up both physical and mental strength gained over the years of doing extreme sports. Eventually, she managed to calm herself down.
Her diving session went on smoothly thereafter, much to her surprise.
“It felt miraculous. After what I went through, I thought diving there would have been impossible, but it wasn’t. What greeted me underwater was worth every struggle.”
Extreme sports have empowered her. However, she wouldn’t recommend other asthmatics to do the same for she believes it’s all about being fuelled by something that interests one personally.
Diving may seem safe with the regulator on and dive master swimming right by your side. But diving when you’re asthmatic is an entirely different story.
You can’t inform the dive master that you’re having an asthma attack when you’re underwater. Panic will kick in and you’ll either yank the regulator off or attempt to swim up to the surface immediately.
Considering how dangerous diving is for asthmatics, it’s questionable why Ada’s willing to take the risk.
Breaking into a blissful smile, she simply said, “It’s a magical world down there.”
2018 marks her sixth year of not using the inhaler.
When asked if she plans on retiring from extreme sports now that her health has improved, she becomes steely-eyed and says, “extreme sports pried my eyes open to a new perspective of life; how we should challenge ourselves and not settle for something merely out of convenience.”
“It’s also an outlet that enables me to bask in a form of satisfaction like no other so, no I won’t be calling it quits anytime soon.”
*An alias has been used to protect the privacy of the interviewee