Spring has sprung and that means one thing—misery. The warm winter and record-setting start to spring have left millions of us who suffer from allergies wondering who we wronged in another life to deserve this. What good is an 80-degree day in March if I can’t stop my nose from running, my eyes from watering and my lungs from burning? I thought trees and plants were here to help make our air cleaner, not set my chest on fire with their pollen. As a guy whose job requires him to be outside in the elements in the spring, summer and fall, I’ll take the coldest November day with a wicked wind chill over a cloudless spring day with my allergies raging. You ever try to interview someone after a big game with swollen eyes and a runny nose while sneezing? It’s, well, quite miserable.
And my job is easy compared to the kids and coaches who have to perform in the elements. I get to sit there, use my handkerchief and drug myself with whatever won’t make me too sleepy to drive home. There are plenty of kids participating in spring sports that suffer from this scourge and have to play through it. “We had a girl that had an asthma attack on the track last week,” Ladue track and field coach Keith Harder says. “She almost passed out.”
Harder is a springtime veteran. The longtime track coach for Ladue, he makes his hay when hay fever is at its worst. There are a few things he looks for when trying to figure out if his athletes are battling allergies. “They’ll have a hard time breathing while they’re warming up,” Harder says. The young woman who nearly had an asthma attack struggled with her warm up for the 800-meter race, which is two laps around the track. She barely made it one time around before her lungs had enough. “I’m listening to her breathe, and she was having a hard time in warm ups,” he says. “On the second lap, she practically started to walk. She had a hard time catching her breath.”
Asthma, whether allergy- or exercise-induced can be scary. Breathing, as you know, is essential. When you’re pushing your body to the extremes a track athlete must, it just takes up the level of danger. “It’s hard enough just to run,” Harder says.
Harder says he once had one of his best 800 runners come to him right before a meet and tell him he couldn’t run that day. Harder looked at the young man and asked why not. “He said ‘they just cut the grass, and I can’t run,’ ” Harder recalls. “And he didn’t.”
If allergies weren’t bad enough, the spring also brings rain—buckets and buckets of rain. If you want to make a runny nose look like nothing, then try the headache that comes with rescheduling freshmen, JV and varsity games when a soaker of a storm blows through. Baseball, girls’ soccer, boys’ golf, track and field, lacrosse and boys’ tennis all take their turn in the spring. And they’re all subject to Mother Nature’s fickle ways. Some springs are nice and dry. Most are wet and unplayable.
Harder has some experience with that, too. Track and field meets are only called off on the rarest of occasions. If there isn’t lightning or a downpour, most track meets will go off in the elements. Like allergies, it’s something the players and coaches just have to work through. “You’re just hoping the weather is good,” Harder says. “When you start losing practices and meets, you just have to deal with it.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it. In fact, it can be quite miserable.