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Amanda D., MA

In the first grade, I got really sick and couldn't stop coughing. That's when my parents started explaining to me about asthma and how I was born with it. My condition was pretty bad then. My parents had to test and record my oxygen level.

As I got older and started participating in sports, I would get winded running short distances. My parents told me it was my decision whether I wanted to continue. It was a challenge sometimes, but due to my love for sports I didn't give up although I had to rely on my inhaler to get me through practice and games.

By the time I started high school, my asthma was under better control and it didn't have such a big impact on my life. But that doesn't mean my symptoms went away. I've been on the soccer, track and swim teams all four years and there are times it's been tough.

Exercising outside in the cold is really difficult. My throat and chest get tight and it's hard to breathe. I am often faced with moments when I have to decide if I should stop or keep pushing myself, and I know the result of my decision could be serious given my situation with asthma.

A yearlong social justice project at my school is a graduation requirement through which seniors learn about and research social injustices in the world. For my project, I chose air pollution and its impact on human life. I wanted to learn more about how breathing polluted air filled with toxins can cause asthma or other respiratory conditions, and how it hurts the lives of those, like me, who already struggle with the conditions. For the direct service and interview portion of my project, I reached out to the American Lung Association and found that air pollution is a serious problem, especially for people who live in inner cities or communities where coal-burning power plants send contaminants into the air. It is even worse for people whose lungs are compromised by asthma or other respiratory conditions.

As part of my project, I volunteered for the American Lung Association Fight for the Air Climb in Springfield, Massachusetts. I climbed 22 flights of stairs with a group of firefighters. And with the help of my inhaler, I am proud to say that I made it to the top. Air pollution may feel personal for me, but the fact is it affects everyone. All people need clean air to lead healthy lives. I want to do whatever I can to help people understand that it's time we speak up about our priorities and number one on the list is our right to breathe clean air.

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