Austin Hecker and his mom, Heidi Hecker, of Merrick, were watching TV one day when they saw American speed skater and Olympic champion Apolo Ohno making a guest appearance on the talk show “The Doctors.” Ohno was discussing his experience with exercise induced bronchospasm, also known as exercise induced asthma, a medical condition characterized by tightening of breathing airways due to extra production of mucus during exercise.
Ohno said that his condition went undiagnosed for many years, and he was not able to perform to his full potential athletically before he was properly diagnosed and began treatment.
“Our mouths were open,” Heidi said. “It was exactly the same thing Austin went through.”
Ohno said he was working with the website EIBAllstars.com to wage a national awareness campaign on behalf of the “estimated 30 million Americans” who have EIB. He announced that the website was running a contest in which Americans with EIB could share their stories, and judges would pick a compelling contestant to win a trip for two to Los Angeles and a dinner with Ohno.
“We just went, why not enter?” Austin said.
Heidi is now one of 10 finalists in the nationwide contest. She entered on behalf of Austin because the contest was open to those 18 and older, and her son was 17 at the time. She said Austin will come with her to Los Angeles if she wins the trip.
“I kind of feel like we entered it as a team,” Heidi explained. “I really feel that this whole story is about him; it isn’t about me. But I could speak to a parent’s experience of having a child that has EIB, and help them not be frustrated with it or help them find avenues where they can help their child achieve. It’s a partnership between me and Austin.”
Like Ohno, Austin started playing sports as a young child, and went many years without being properly diagnosed with EIB. Austin swam regularly at the pool at Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore, eventually qualifying for Newbridge’s swim team. In middle school, he began participating on the track and wrestling teams.