Junior Cycling Champ Overcomes Potential Career-Ending Condition
If you’ve ever worked out hard enough or long enough, chances are you’ve experienced times when you just wish for more out of your gasps for air.
But when faced with the symptoms of fatigue that prevented her from getting the most out of her workout, elite cyclist and aspiring Olympian Sophie Weigel didn’t quit. Instead, the 14-year-old 2013 Texas State Cyclocross Champion pushed on, wondering why she struggled to breathe so much after reaching a challenging pace that she couldn’t cross the finish line of competitive races.
“I wasn’t racing up to the standard that I usually was,” Sophie said of her last cycling season. “I just felt out of shape, and I knew I wasn’t out of shape.”
Turns, out, Weigel was suffering from a condition called vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), also referred to as vocal fold dysfunction. It’s an abnormal breathing pattern in which the vocal cords close instead of open during inhalation, partially obstructing the airway and making it difficult for one to breathe.
“Your throat feels really, really tight,” Weigel said of her symptoms. “It feels like it starts closing and you can’t get enough air in. It’s like a choking feeling. It’s just not pleasant.”
While it can occur in both athletes and non-athletes, physical activity is the No. 1 trigger for VCD.
“We see this in highly motivated, smart athletes,” said Peter Schochet, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. “These kids are highly motivated. They really want to perform. They do well and push themselves in school and they push themselves on the field or in their sport. They get into bad breathing habits and that’s what gets them into trouble with their vocal cords.”
For more information about Texas Health Plano’s Speech Pathology Program, visit TexasHealth.org/Plano and click the Rehabilitation link under Medical Services. To reach the VCD therapy department, call 972-981-8185.
Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.